The seven suspects arrested here in connection with the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks were formally charged by a Pakistani Anti-Terror Court on Saturday, but the defence lawyers accused the judge of making a “mockery” of the law. They said they were considering asking for a transfer of the case to another court.
Judge Baqir Ali Rana of the Anti-Terror Court 2 in the Adilala prison at Rawalpindi framed the charges. The case has been adjourned to October 17.
The seven include Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, operations commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Zarar Shah, described as a communications expert in the outfit.
But their indictment came after the team of three defence lawyers left the court, apparently at the urging of the judge. It is not clear yet what charges the court has framed out of the multiple charge sheets presented by the Federal Investigations Agency, which is in charge of the 26/11 investigation.
Khwaja Sultan, the senior-most lawyer in the team, told The Hindu that as the defence counsel were not present, the seven suspects refused to “sign the charges,” that is, they declined to plead guilty or not guilty.
“We are considering challenging the manner in which this was done at the next hearing, and we are also considering asking for a transfer of the case from this court,” he said.
The charges were read out to each of the accused, Mr. Sultan said, but they refused to sign them as required, as the document was in English, a language they did not understand, and because their lawyers were not present.
According to Mr. Sultan, the judge asked the lawyers to leave the court following the attack at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, telling them that they would be stranded if the city were to be shut down later.
Earlier in the day, the defence team moved a petition before the court on the manner of arrest and detention of the suspects.
Judge Rana asked the prosecution to respond to the objections raised in the petition immediately.
After arguments on both sides, the lawyers were waiting for the judge to make a ruling in the matter. It was that point that they heard about the trouble at Rawalpindi.
“I told the judge that courtesy demands that I should stay on until the court remained open, but the judge asked me to leave,” Mr. Sultan related.
“But the judge asked the prosecution lawyer to return and for the suspects to be produced before him again, and he framed the charges,” the Lahore-based lawyer said.