Cult leader gets capital punishment: Followers also convicted

Faisaladad, Pakistan - The Anti-Terrorism Court on Monday awarded capital punishment, three-count life imprisonment and 43-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs1.7 million to a cult leader and life imprisonment on four counts with the same fine to his 28 followers.

However, the court acquitted one of the accused, Zahid (14), giving him the benefit of doubt.

Shahbaz Ahmad and his followers were booked by the Nishatabad police under sections 295-B and 295-C of the Blasphemy Act, 146, 148, 149, 186, 324, 353 and 427 of the PPC, 16-MPO, 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and 13/20/65 on a written complaint of city DSP Malik Abdul Rasheed on Dec 15 last.

According to the prosecution, a group of some 30 armed men appeared on Sargodha Road and made an announcement that ‘Imam Mehdi’ had appeared. They also opened fire on the general public and the police party, headed by the city DSP. They threatened if their leader was not accepted as ‘Imam Mehdi’, the entire country would be destroyed and there would be an earthquake. One passerby was injured in their firing.

Later, the accused took the motorway through Kamalpur interchange. When the police started their chase, they left their vehicles and opened fire on the police party as a result of which their own accomplices — Naveed, Tahir, Babar and Abid — sustained injuries.

In the meantime, the cult members intercepted a bus and hijacked its passengers and crew at gunpoint. However, they were arrested after an encounter.

The ATC after completion of the case file started its hearing on Jan 14 and completed the trial in 23 days on a day-to-day basis. Eleven police officials, including two DSPs, and cult members, including Shahbaz, recorded their statements before the court.

On Monday, judge Mohammad Yousaf Ojala announced the judgment after completing the trial.

The court awarded death sentence, three-count life imprisonment and 43-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs1.7 million to Shahbaz. However, accused Khizar Hayat, Shaikh Tahir, Iqbal, Abdul Rahman, Jawed Iqbal, Ismail, Atiqur Rahman, Iqbal Ahmad, Taj Din, Yaseen, Ishaq, Talib Husain, Zafar Iqbal, Ilyas, Taj Ansari, Ijaz Ahmad, Imran, Naveed Ali, Mukhtar Ahmad, Sajid Ali, Shaukat, Mahmoodul Hasan, Shahbaz, Tahir, Naveed and Abid Ali were given four-count life imprisonment and 43-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs1.7 million.

All accused were presented before the court amid tight security.

Cult leader Shahbaz told Dawn he was not satisfied with the decision because the court had not given them the right to defence. He said they would file an appeal before the Lahore High Court.

Most of the accused termed the decision one-sided, saying they had not committed any heinous crime and just responded to the ‘true call’ of their leader, Shahbaz.