LAHORE/Islamabad     -   Following instructions from Prime Minister Imran Khan, Punjab government has decided to challenge the Sahiwal encounter verdict in Lahore High Court.

An anti-terrorism court had on Thursday acquitted all the accused by giving them benefit of doubt. This sparked criticism on the social media against the government which had pledged to provide justice to the victim family. The court decision also became a subject of debate on TV talk shows.

“The victims’ family may be satisfied with the court decision but the government is not. The government is going to challenge the verdict in the court,” Punjab Minister for Law Raja Basharat declared at a press conference here.

The minister told reporters that instructions have been issued to the Advocate General to file an appeal against the court verdict in Sahiwal Tragedy Case.

Raja Basharat said that Chief Minister had also constituted an inquiry commission to identify flaws in the prosecution which helped the accused escape punishment. “This commission would identify weaknesses in prosecution, investigation and the process of evidence within a specific period,” he said, adding government was much concerned on the murder of innocent people in this tragedy.

He assured Punjab government would fulfill requirements of justice. Minister wondered over expression of satisfaction by the heirs of victims on the verdict, saying it was a big question mark. He said the heirs could be satisfied on the court verdict but government will make every effort to bring the responsible persons to justice. He went on to say that the government had got registered FIR according to the will of the heirs and judicial inquiry was conducted. Similarly, the demand of not conducting trial in Sahiwal was also accepted, he said.

Earlier, on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Ministry of Interior asked the Punjab government to file an appeal against the acquittal of all six officials of Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) police in Sahiwal encounter case.

In a letter written to the chief secretary and inspector general of police (IGP) of Punjab, the ministry also directed that a high-powered committee should be appointed to probe and identify the flaws in the investigation and prosecution of the case.

“A compliance report may be submitted to this ministry and PM Office within three days,” the letter said.

On Thursday, a public outcry was witnessed on social media soon after an ATC acquitted CTD officials. The social media users also criticised PM Khan quoting his earlier tweet that he would bring the culprits to justice.

However, complainant on the case, who is one of the brothers of the deceased, said in his video message that the family was satisfied with the court decision, indicating that he either was under some pressure to give a public statement or had reached some settlement after getting compensation money from the accused.

In January this year, Muhammad Khalil, his wife and their four children were travelling in a car, with their neighbour Zeeshan, when the CTD personnel intercepted the vehicle and sprayed bullets on them killing three family members and the neighbour on the spot. However, three minor children survived the attack.

After a video of the encounter went viral on social media, the CTD claimed that fire was opened because they had intelligence-based information that Zeeshan had links with a terrorist outfit. The six police personnel were later booked in a murder case.

“The Prime Minister has expressed serious concerns over the acquittal of all six police personal, indicted in the Sahiwal killings/police encounter, by Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Punjab, in January, 2019,” said the letter addressed to Punjab chief secretary and IGP.

“The trial court has noted in its judgement that the prosecution had failed to prove their case against the accused, as none of the witnesses testified the occurrence of the incident,” the letter further said adding that this sets a deplorable and shocking precedent where state machinery colluding to hinder the dispensation of justice to the victims.

The letter further added that PM had “directed to file an appeal against the verdict to bring the culprits to justice by holding the prosecution department responsible to establish their case through genuine witnesses.”

The ministry further asked the Punjab government that PM desired that high-powered committee should also “identify perpetrators of omissions and commissions within different organs of the state whose actions/in-actions benefited the suspects.” The letter said that specific recommendations should be submitted to rectify such flaws in the system and to dispense justice to the victims of tragedy.