A Pakistani anti-terrorism court hearing the Mumbai 2008 attacks case will frame charges afresh against the seven men arrested for their suspected involvement in the attacks at the next hearing on November 23.
Charges were earlier framed by another anti-terror court hearing the case, but got mired in objections by the accused over the manner in which the judge sought to indict them in the absence of their lawyers.
As the judge and the defence lawyers fell out, the case was shifted from the court at the request of the judge.
It came up for hearing on Monday at the Anti-Terror Court 1, presided over by Judge Malik Mohammed Akram Awan, in the tightly guarded Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
In the dock are Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, operations commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba; Zarar Shah, another Lashkar operative who is described as a “communications expert,” Hamad Amin Sadiq, accused of “facilitating funds and hideouts” for the Mumbai attackers; Abu al Qama, described as a “handler;” and, Shahid Jamil Riaz, who is described both as a facilitator for funds and a crew member of a boat used by the attackers. The two others in custody are Jamil Ahmed and Younus.
Proceedings are held in camera, and lawyers have been asked not to reveal anything that happens in the court to the media.
But a source with knowledge of the proceedings said that at the latest hearing on Monday, the accused were given copies of the documents for which their lawyers had applied in the last hearing on November 7.
The judge then announced November 23 as the next date for the case, and said charges would be framed at this hearing.
A team of three lawyers retained by the accused had earlier put forth the argument that the charges framed by the previous court did not count as the accused did not record the required “guilty” or “not guilty” statement after the charges were read out to them, neither did they affix their signatures on the document.
“You can call that document a draft of the charges. It becomes legally effective only after it has been read out, and the statement of the accused to the charges against them is recorded, and the accused sign the document. This was not done the last time because the accused refused to go through the process when their lawyers were not present,” said the source. “Now this court has to frame fresh charges.”
A lawyer for the accused said if there was any attempt to resurrect the charges framed by the previous court, the defence would raise objections. “It means this judge has not applied his own mind to the facts in the FIR and to the evidence relied upon by the prosecution, and we will object to it,” he said.