The tensions between Baqir Ali Rana, judge of Rawalpindi’s Anti-Terrorism Court 2 hearing the Mumbai attacks case, and defence counsel Khwaja Sultan — who represents Zakiur Rehman, the operations commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, among the seven arrested for planning the Mumbai attacks from Pakistan — began at the October 10 hearing. It was also the day on which the Army headquarters at Rawalpindi came under attack. The ATC sits in the maximum-security Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.
When news of the attack filtered into the courtroom, Mr. Rana, according to the defence counsel, asked them to pack up and leave for the day as there was an apprehension that all roads in the city would be sealed and movement would become difficult.
“It was very astonishing,” said Malik Mohammed Rafiq Khan, another lawyer in the three-man defence team, that after they took his advice and left Adiala, the judge decided to go ahead and frame the charges in their absence.
The accused refused to sign on the charges presented to them after these were read out to them, saying their counsel were not present and they did not know English to be able to read the charge sheet.
Defence counsel boycotted the next hearing on October 17 in protest. “The accused were arraigned before the court and they told the judge they no longer had confidence in him and they did not accept him as the judge,” Mr. Khan said.
According to Mr. Sultan, the defence team was under directions from its clients to boycott the proceedings.
Judge Rana is reported to have said in the court that day that he did not want to hear the case anymore. The proceedings are held in camera and there are no independent accounts of the last hearing.
Mr. Sultan said the judge was under pressure from Interior Minister Rehman Malik. He said he was planning to show a television clip to the Lahore High Court in which Mr. Malik was telling journalists that the government had said charges against the seven suspects would be framed on October 10, and that this promise had been kept.
There was also another clip, the lawyer said, of the Interior Minister saying the seven would be convicted.
The imbroglio is another setback to the proceedings, which have yet to cross the pre-trial stage even though it is nearly 11 months since the Mumbai attacks, and five of the accused were in custody by February 2009.