Shahzeb murder case: SC says court needs to consider what ‘terrorism’ entails

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday reviewed a civil petition concerning the Shahzeb Khan murder case, which is being re-examined after several petitioners contested a Sindh High Court decision to order a retrial of the case.
The Sindh High Court had in November 2017 set aside punishments awarded to the accused by an anti-terrorism court while ordering a retrial of the case in a sessions court. The order was passed after considering a review petition filed by one of the defendants’ lawyers. The lawyer had argued that terrorism charges should be dropped from the case as the prime suspect was a juvenile at the time of the crime.
Following the Sindh High Court’s decision, civil rights campaigners had submitted an application to the SC stating that the unfortunate and gruesome murder of the university student had spread terror and created fear, panic, helplessness and insecurity among people residing in the DHA and Clifton vicinities, as well as the public in general of Karachi and Pakistan.
The applicants had said: “Hundreds of people had come out on the streets demanding justice for the deceased on the grounds that the same could happen to their children also. This is because such unfortunate incidents are prevalent in our society.”
They had recalled that the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) had also dismissed the accused persons’ plea seeking transfer of the case to the sessions court in March 2013. The SHC had also earlier upheld the ATC order on the transfer plea and ruled: “We, therefore, hold that act of accused Shah Rukh Jatoi created sense of helplessness and insecurity amongst the people of the vicinity and did destabilise the public at large.”
The applicants said that as such, provisions of Section 6 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 are fully justified in being applied to this case. Therefore, the present case should fall within the jurisdiction of an Anti-Terrorism Court.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who is heading the bench hearing the petition, said on Wednesday that while the court had received 421 applications concerning the same case, the bench will not be able to entertain all applicants individually.
The bench, which includes Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Maqbool Baqar, discussed the maintainability of the appeal.
Justice Nisar asked if the SC has the right to question a verdict given by a high court, to which he was assured by prosecution lawyer Faisal Siddiqui that the court indeed does have jurisdiction in the matter.
During the hearing, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that there are two issues the court needs to explore, which include: what constitutes terrorism and whether the applicability of terrorism charges in this case has already been settled by the high court.
Justice Khosa, too, asked if the SC has jurisdiction over a matter that has already been decided by the high court.
“How can we review a matter that has already been settled by the SHC,” Justice Khosa said, observing that the high court had already deemed Shahzeb’s murder ‘not an act of terrorism’.