Authorities in Pakistan revealed Friday that an anti-terrorism court, citing lack of evidence, has acquitted most of the suspects charged with planning the October 2012 assassination attempt on Nobel prize winner Malala Yousufzai.
The revelation came almost a month after police in the Swat district, the site of the attack, had announced that all 10 men who stood trial in connection with the crime were convicted and sentenced to 25-year jail terms.
But Swat police chief, Salim Khan Marwat, told VOA the earlier ruling was incorrectly reported because the court had actually found only two suspects guilty and freed the rest because there was “not enough evidence” linking them to the violence.
He said the two convicts, identified as Israrullah and Izhar, were sent to prison to serve their 25-year terms. Marwat added that he was not aware of the fate of the rest of the eight men after they were set free by the court.
The Pakistani Taliban orchestrated the attack on Nobel Laureate Malala. It justified the act saying it was meant to punish her for campaigning for girls’ education in Swat. She was around 14 years old at the time of the shooting.
The fugitive chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the shooting, and three other men linked to the attack remain at large, according to court officials.
Nobel Peace laureate
Malala Yousufzai was critically wounded in the attack and was later flown to Britain for treatment where she now resides. The 17-year-old activist became the youngest winner of Nobel Peace Prize in history for her courageous activism.
The Pakistan military arrested the 10 men last September during counter-militancy operations in the northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and claimed at the time to have seized enough evidence to successfully prosecute them.
But no details of the trial were made public until April 10 when its conclusion and the first set of convictions were announced.
Critics cite flaws in the anti-terrorism law and lack of protection for prosecutors, judges and witnesses for a extremely low conviction rate in Pakistan where cases involving high-profile suspects often drag on for years or win them freedom.