Tags: Pakistan | court | terror | freedom

Pakistan Court Upholds Freedom of Terror Cleric

Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:09 AM

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld Tuesday the freedom of the head of a charity linked to the Mumbai attacks and blacklisted in the West, quashing government appeals against his release from house arrest.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who heads the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa and who founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) faction blamed by India and the United States for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was declared a free man by a court in Lahore last year.

The verdict had been challenged by Pakistan's federal and Punjab provincial governments, but the country's highest court ruled there was insufficient evidence the 60-year-old should be detained.

With the charity linked by India to the Mumbai attacks, the ruling was greeted with disappointment in New Delhi, with whom Islamabad wants to resume peace talks that broke down after the Mumbai attacks.

The decision was also likely to ruffle Washington, which sees the charity as a terror group and has put pressure on Pakistan to round up Dawa members.

A three-judge bench at Pakistan's supreme court headed by Justice Nasir ul Mulk rejected the appeals and upheld the June 2009 order from the high court in Lahore, defence lawyer A.K. Dogar told AFP.

"The prosecution has failed to prove its case," he said.

"We cannot usurp the right of freedom of a person on mere assumption," Dogar quoted the short order from the court as saying.

Pakistan put Saeed and three of his charity co-leaders under house arrest in December 2008, a month after Mumbai, and publicly shut their offices after the UN Security Council blacklisted the organisation as a terror group.

India, which suspended the fragile four-year peace process with its bitter rival after the attacks on Mumbai, expressed disappointment in Tuesday's decision.

"We regard Hafiz Saeed as one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks and he has openly urged jihad (holy war) against India," foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters in New Delhi.

"Enough evidence has been given by India to Pakistan on the role and activities of Hafiz Saeed," she said, adding Pakistan should take "meaningful action" against him to fulfil its pledge not to harbour militants.

Saeed Yousaf, the Punjab prosecutor involved in the provincial appeal, told AFP: "We tried our level best on the basis of the documents available".

The 60-hour siege on India's financial capital left 166 people dead.

On May 6, India sentenced the sole surviving gunman, Pakistan's Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, to death.

India wants Pakistan to convict the alleged masterminds of the assault and sees Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a front for LeT.

The group's founder, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and key operative Zarar Shah are currently on trial in Pakistan.

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said renewed efforts were being made to restart full peace talks between the bitter nuclear-armed neighbours.

India has previously made peace talks conditional on Pakistan bringing the Mumbai attack masterminds to justice and dismantling militant groups.

The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Islamabad on July 15 as part of efforts to revive the abandoned talks.

Dawa, which is one of Pakistan's biggest charities and known across the country for its relief work after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, has long denied all terror accusations and welcomed Tuesday's ruling.

"Finally, truth has prevailed," charity spokesman Yahya Mujahid told AFP by telephone.

"The world should realise now that Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a non-terrorist organisation," he said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

Saeed reportedly abandoned LeT when it was outlawed in Pakistan after India accused the group of being behind a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament which pushed the nuclear rivals to the brink of war.

The group, whose name means "army of the pious," was established in 1989 to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to Pakistani intelligence services and Al-Qaeda.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld Tuesday the freedom of the head of a charity linked to the Mumbai attacks and blacklisted in the West, quashing government appeals against his release from house arrest.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:09 AM
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