An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore on Saturday acquitted Awami Workers Party (AWP) senior leader Ghulam Dastagir Mehboob and nine peasants of a murder case.
“The prosecution has failed to prove charges against the accused,” ATC judge Choudhry Muhammad Ilyas said in his short order.
The ATC judge acquitted Ghulam Dastagir Mahboob and nine other peasants from all charges and ordered their release, Ghulam Dastagir’s counsel Pervez Inayat Malik said.
Dastagir and others will be released from Sheikhupura District Jail on Monday, said Malik, a former judge of the Lahore High Court who pleaded the case. He was assisted by Liaquat Nasir, Tariq Javed and Safdar Sandhu advocates in the ATC.
Ghulam Dastagir along with nine peasants are incarcerating in jail for the last five years in a case filed by the Muridke police on trumped-up charges of murder, terrorism and robbery. Malik was satisfied with the judgement but regretted that his client has been languishing in jail for five years. “Who will compensate the 77 years old Ghulam Dastagir for the five years he had to spend in jail and the mental torture and difficulties he had gone through during these years in jail,” the counsel questioned.
He blamed the flaws in the prosecution, investigation and judicial systems that make thousands of innocent and poor people to incarcerate in jail.
Some of the inmates lose hope and life while the court proceedings continue to linger on for years, he said citing examples of recent cases in which SC acquitted two convicts after their death.
Background of the case
On May 16th, 2012, Dera Sehgal was besieged by the Muridke Police to evict over 150 peasant families from the five muraba (125 acres) land that was allotted to them during the 1977 land reforms. They have been cultivating the land since 1968. But after the military dictator Ziaul Haq’s takeover, a Shariat Bench of the Supreme Court declared land reforms unIslamic. The Sehgal family, one of the most influential families, tried to evict the peasants from the land. The Sehgals used all kinds of tactics but the peasants resisted the eviction moves.
On May 16, 2012, the police used teargas and baton charged the hapless peasants injuring about 25 of them. The peasants marched on the GT Road and took the injured persons to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Muridke but the police blocked the highway and did not allow them.
The AWP leaders — Ghulam Dastagir Mehboob, Malik Hayat (late) and Safdar Sandhu — when got the news of the police brutality, reached the venue to resolve the standoff.
In the meantime, DSP Shahid Niaz opened fire at the protesting peasants and a bullet hit a passerby truck driver identified as Arif Khan. The police nominated Mahboob and 250 peasants in the murder case under the anti-terrorism law.
On October 17, 2012, the police arrested Mehboob and four peasant activists in the case. In July 2013, Arif’s brothers filed a private complaint in the court against the DSP for killing their brother. The police, however, coerced one of Arif’s brothers to put the blame on Mehboob.
Two months back the police pressurised another brother of the deceased to withdraw his complaint but the court did not allow it as arguments and counter-arguments from both sides had already been completed.
On July 7, Dastagir’s counsel made his final arguments for seven hours before the judge. On July 8, the prosecution made counter arguments.On July 9, the ATC judge pronounced the judgment acquitting all the accused from all charges and ordered the police and jail authorities to release them.
The AWP has been pursuing the case in the ATC since 2012 and organised protest demos on May 23 this year throughout the country and abroad for the release of Ghulam Dastagir Mehboob, Baba Jan who is in a Gilgit-Baltistan jail for raising voice for the rights of the 2010 Attabad disaster-hit families and Meher Abdus Sattar, another peasant leader striving for the rights of the Okara military farm who has been arrested and kept in Sahiwal jail.
AWP has been voicing against the abuse of terrorism and colonial-era laws against progressive and nationalist political workers to suppress their struggle for their fundamental rights.
The Sehgal family has been harassing peasants, women and their children by implicating them in false cases of theft, robbery etc. Most of the peasants are either in jail or hiding for fear of arrests. The women are resisting the eviction moves.
Sajida Nawaz, an activist of Dera Sehgal and mother of three children was shot dead by the unknown assailants at her clinic at Manawa on November 3 last year.
AWP president Fanoos Gujjar along with party spokesperson Farooq Tariq had visited the Okara military farms and Dera Sehgal last November to express solidarity with the peasants. They also expressed sympathies with Sajida’s parents.
Meanwhile, AWP President Fanoos Gujjar, General Secretary Akhtar Hussain, Deputy GS Ismat Shahjehan, spokesperson Farooq Tariq and other leaders have congratulated the legal team for successfully pleading Comrade Ghulam Dastagir Mahboob and peasants’ case.
They also paid tribute to the jailed leader for his sacrifices, commitment and struggle for the rights of the peasants and working class and facing the state repression with dignity.
They hoped that other leaders Baba Jan and Meher Abdus Sattar will also be released soon. The AWP president, GS, DGS and Punjab President Dr Asim Sajjad, information secretary and other local leaders will receive Ghulam Dastagir at the jail’s gate and take him in a procession to his house on Monday.