June 3rd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
After languishing in prison for eight long and hard years, Gulfam Masih has been finally acquitted by the Lahore High Court (LHC). Masih was on death row after being accused of a double murder, however the LHC has given him benefit of doubt in the case.
The court also acquitted his co-accused, Fahad Ghuman for the incident that took place in 2013. On June 21, 2017, a court in Sialkot had sentenced Ghuman and Masih to death on two counts for shooting dead Amir Bashir and Shahid Butt in their travel agency office in Sialkot.
However the trial court had acquitted eight other accused, namely Akmal Masih, Ashir Masih, Azhar Abbas, Maqsood Ahmad, Mian Tariq, Muhammad Ramzan, Muhammad Zaman Butt, and Talat Bibi – in the case.
In 2019, Gulfam Masih approached the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid team during their visit to Sialkot jail where he was imprisoned since his conviction. The Asma Jahangir Legal Aid team provides free legal assistance to destitute and vulnerable prisoners.
Gulfam Masih told the visiting team that he was falsely implicated in the case as he was a friend of one of the nominated accused in the case.
Masih was arrested in the case on November 22, 2013 but he was not a nominated accused in the FIR, said Shabbir Hussain, counsel for Gulfam Masih while speaking to Voicepk.net.
Hussain said the high court took note of the glaring inconsistencies in the prosecution case which the trial court had overlooked.
The high court also cast doubt on the presence of two prosecution witnesses, one of whom was injured in the shooting, at the scene of the crime.
“The presence of both these prosecution witnesses on the spot at the time of the incident is doubtful in nature because they allegedly saw the incident from a close distance but we failed to understand that the presence of both these prosecution witnesses, who were closely related to the deceased Amir Bashir, how such a tragedy could have happened without any intervention on their part to rescue him,” Justice Sheram Sarwar Chaudhary wrote while deciding the murder reference along with Justice Tariq Nadeem on May 18, 2021.
The bench was hearing the convicts’ appeal as well as murder reference sent by the trial court for confirmation of their death sentence.
The high court also pointed out that the complainant who was one of the prosecution witness mentioned above did not file an appeal against the acquittal of Azhar Abbas whom he saw firing shots on deceased Amir Bashir according to the FIR.
The high court cited a Supreme Court judgment that states ‘if some eye-witnesses are disbelieved against some accused persons attributed effective roles then the same eye-witnesses cannot be relied upon to the extent of the other accused persons in the absence of any independent corroboration.
“Therefore, we hold that the evidence of above two eye-witnesses is shaky in nature and cannot be relied upon for maintaining the convictions/sentences of the appellants,” reads the LHC judgment.
Hussain said Gulfam Masih was presented for an identity parade about 25 days after his arrest, casting further doubts on his role in the killings.
“The identification parade conducted in this case carries no value in the eye of law because Gulfam Masih was arrested 22-11-2013 and the identification parade in this case was conducted on 16-12-2013, after about 25 days of his arrest. Therefore, chances cannot be ruled out that the witnesses of ocular account had seen the appellants prior to the holding of the identification parade,” reads the judgment.
The LHC judgment also noted that the identity parade of the convict was conducted along with another co-accused Akmal Masih in the case, a practice disapproved by the Supreme Court.
“Morever, the identification parade conducted in this case was held jointly in which Gulfam Masih and his co-accused Akmal Masih had been made to sit jointly along with other dummies. Holding of a joint identification parade of multiple accused persons in one go has been disapproved by the Supreme Court in a judgment passed in a case titled Gulfam and another Versus The State,” reads the LHC judgment.
The high court came to the irresistible conclusion that the prosecution could not prove its case against the appellants beyond any shadow of doubt.
“It is also well established that if there is a single circumstance which creates doubt regarding the prosecution case, the same is sufficient to give benefit of doubt to the accused, whereas, the instant case is replete with number of circumstances which have created serious doubt the prosecution story,” reads the LHC judgment.
Setting aside their death sentences awarded by the trial court, the LHC acquitted the convicts of the charges levelled against them while extending them benefit of doubt.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Imtiaz Masih, uncle of Gulfam Masih, said he was very happy to hear of his nephew’s acquittal in the murder case. He said Gulfam will be released from Sialkot jail in the coming days as he has been granted bail in a separate illegal firearms case.