Radio Sandwell News

Malala Yousafzai attackers secretly acquitted

2015-06-05 19:51:11

Malala YousafzaiMalala Yousafzai was shot by Taliban gunmen after campaigning for education rights

It didn't take long for the news to spread around Pakistan's fiercely competitive media, and then the world: 10 men had been convicted over the murder of Malala Yousafzai and sentenced to life.

The only problem? It wasn't true. Only two of the 10 were found guilty. Was it a calculated leak? Or did officials simply neglect to correct an error that made good PR?

The trial was held inside Paitham, where an anti-terrorism court was convened in a former hotel building converted into a military detention centre.

Pakistan's anti-terrorism courts are closed to the public and the press, so when the news of the convictions first broke, it took even local journalists by surprise. No-one knew it was happening.

An army spokesman told journalists he would be issuing a statement, but later changed his mind. A public prosecutor told the Associated Press news agency that 10 men had been sentenced to life, but later denied ever speaking to the reporter.

Amid all the confusion though, one thing was clear: Pakistan had been under pressure to get convictions, and suddenly it had 10.

Targeting the Taliban

Over the past one year or so, Pakistan has been trying to address charges that it has been supporting militant groups.

In the June 2014, the army launched a ground action in North Waziristan, targeting militants who were becoming increasingly hostile.

At the same time, the Pakistani military launched a diplomatic offensive that took army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on high profile trips to Kabul, Washington and London.

Malala YousafzaiMalala Yousafzai's Nobel Prize put further pressure on Pakistan to bring her attackers to justice

His globe-trotting was seen by many as an attempt to reset Pakistan's mostly troubled relations with Afghanistan and the US and to pre-empt a possible flare up of militant violence after Nato's departure from the region.

The Taliban attack on the Army Public Public School in Peshawar in December not only realised these fears but underlined the group's aversion to education - the reason why they shot Malala Yousafzai in the first place.

And just a week before the school massacre, Ms Yusafzai had received the Nobel Peace Prize. She had been feted around the world and her growing celebrity was drawing attention to Pakistan's failure to arrest the culprits.

Pressure for results

Then in September, army spokesman Major-General Asim Bajwa made a triumphant announcement that 10 men had been arrested in connection with the attacks.

No details were given about the alleged attackers, except the charge that they were affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and had more than 20 other activists on their hit list.

Major-General Bajwa did not say when and where the men had been arrested or how they were linked to the attack on Ms Yousafzai.

The next that was known of the men was that they had been convicted and sentenced to 25 years each. The news was reported around the world.

But the shroud of secrecy around the trial and convictions has raised serious doubts over whether these men were really who the authorities said they were, and whether they did what the authorities say they did.

Now, with the revelation that we were in the dark even about how many people had been convicted, those doubts are not likely to fade away.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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