SC rejects petition seeking suspension of police officers' bail in Benazir murder case

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal filed by the mother of Benazir Bhutto's chief security officer Tauqeer Kaira to suspend bails of police officers Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad.

Kaira was also killed in the attack that targeted the former prime minister in 2007.

The petition, earlier rejected by the SC registrar, argued that officers Aziz and Shahzad were granted bail and posted at important positions against the rules. It said that the then city police officer (CPO) Saud Aziz and superintendent police (SP) Khurram Shahzad were suspects in the Benazir Bhutto murder case since they had cleaned the site of Bhutto's death soon after the attack.

The two officers had been granted bail by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) awarded both the officers 17 years imprisonment.

The counsel for the police officials told the court that since the petitioner, Rasheeda Bibi, had passed away, her petition was ineffectual.

The court, however, rejected the lawyer's request to declare the petition ineffectual, saying that Bibi's daughter had in the last hearing become party to the petition, and asked her lawyer to continue with his arguments.

Sardar Latif Khosa, the counsel for Rasheeda Bibi, said that the police officers were involved in the murder conspiracy.

When asked by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa what evidence there was to suggest their involvement, Latif Khosa said that they were involved in destroying the evidence.

Latif Khosa said that there was also an appeal against the trial court's decision pending before the high court.

Latif Khosa maintained that one cannot get bail against an anti-terrorism court's judgement. "On what basis were they granted bail?" he asked.

Justice Khosa, however, said that the high court's constitutional powers could not be curbed.

"The police officials have been out on bail for on year," Justice Khosa noted, to which Latif responded, "The bail is unlawful, they were involved in a murder conspiracy... They were granted bail in haste."

"What will you get out of them going to jail?" the judge asked, to which Latif responded: "It is a question of supremacy of law. The high court has exceeded its powers, the ATC's law has an overriding effect."

"Before becoming City Police Officer Rawalpindi, Saud Aziz was the Regional Police Officer Gujranwala," Latif said. "Benazir Bhutto was to be given a secure enclosure and the CPO was responsible for this. Instead, he sent an SSP and other officers [for security]," the lawyer said, adding that Benazir had been shot at point blank range.

"Before she travelled to Karachi, she had named some people," Latif said.

"The trial court did not take Benazir's murder seriously. Scotland Yard and international teams have labelled them as being at fault," Latif said, adding: "Gen Musharraf was controlling everything."

Justice Khosa remarked in response: "This is an assumption."

"Will we depend on the testimony of a witness who has been offered a plea deal?" Latif Khosa asked.

"Keep the law and politics separate," Justice Khosa warned.

"Conducting a post-mortem examination wass their responsibility, Latif said, adding that they were also the ones behind the murder and the investigation.

"It is strange to expect Asif Zardari to have a post-mortem examination conducted, Latif said.

"Those who are out on bail cannot be labelled innocent," Justice Khosa said.

After Latif Khosa concluded his arguments, Saud Aziz's lawyer Khalid Ranjha began his arguments before the court.

"The Punjab government formed the joint investigation team," he recalled, "And they presented five challans. My client was not nominated in the case at the beginning of the investigation. He was named on Nov 13, 2010," Ranjha said.

Who is the actual accused? Justice Khosa asked. "Was anyone punished in this case?"

"No one was punished in this case," replied Khurram Shahzad's lawyer. "My client was accused of washing the crime scene," he said.

"Did anyone give an order to wash the crime scene?" Justice Khosa asked.

"The answer to his question is not on the record," Shahzad's lawyer responded.

"It is a simple matter, this question was asked by the probe team on the first day," Justice Khosa said. "The investigation begins from here. This question must be asked. This is where the issue arises," the judge asserted.

The court subsequently rejected the appeal against suspension of the police officials' bail. It observed that there are appeals pending before the high court in this matter, and said that the accused did not take undue advantage of their bail.

Bilawal to 'follow up' on murder cases

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, while addressing a press conference outside the SC today, said that he wished to become a party in the murder cases of Zulfikar and Benazir Bhutto so that he could follow up on progress in the cases.

"Three generations of my family and the PPP have come to the Supreme Court seeking justice," he said.

Bilawal said when his father was president, he had sent a reference to then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry about the Zulfikar case which, he said, has not been heard until today.

"I thought I should become party in that case so I can follow up," he added.

Bilawal claimed that Benazir's security cordon was "sent away" on the day of the attack. "Box security was given to Shaukat Aziz when he was PM and to Chaudhry Shujaat when he was PM," he said.

"But Benazir Bhutto ─ who was not only targeted on October 18, and everyone was saying her life was in danger ─ her security cordon was, on that day, sent away. They were sent away from the scene and could not provide that security cordon to her and left her a sitting duck for terrorists."

"After the incident, the crime scene was washed of evidence with a fire hydrant hose. The same thing happened on Oct 18."

"You may remember when terrorist attacks took place during Musharraf's era, the crime scenes were protected for days and each piece of evidence was collected. Here, they washed the crime scene," he claimed.

More details to follow.

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