Gilgit: An Anti-Terrorism Court in Gilgit sentenced Shabbir Siham, an Islamabad based journalist to 22 years in prison, and also fined him five lac rupees. The verdict was announced on Friday.
Shabbir Siham, an Islamabad based journalist belonging to Baltistan division, had in November 2016 made startling allegations, in an exposé, against legislators and bureaucrats of Gilgit-Baltistan, accusing them of using scholarship-seeking girls for sexual purposes. His stories, published in multiple newspapers, created a massive unrest across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, with students, and youth groups, coming on the streets in Gilgit, Skardu, and Islamabad, along with other places, to demand action against the legislators.
The Gilgit-Baltistan government constituted a committee, headed by the then Home Secretary, to investigate the allegations. The committee summoned Siham to appear in front of it and present evidences in connection with his story.
Shabbir Siham, however, failed to appear before the committee, saying he had security concerns. The Gilgit-Baltistan govt. offered to provide full security to Siham, but he did not appear the committee.
Registration of Case
Meanwhile, a lawmaker, Iqbal Hassan, incumbent Minister for Information, who was named as a central character in the alleged scandal, registered a case against Shabbir Siham under the Anti-Terrorism Act, accusing him of creating unrest in the region by making ‘baseless and fictitious’ reports aimed at blackmailing and extortion. The case was registered at Police Station Danyore,
In his application to the police, the lawmaker also accused Shabbir Siham of demanding five million rupees as extortion money on phone for killing the ‘concocted story’.
The Judicial Process
The case was taken up by the Anti-Terrorism Court, who summoned Shabbir Siham to present evidence in support of his allegations.
On Friday, after continuous absence of Shabbir Siham, the court announced it verdict in absentia against the journalist, sentencing him to 25 years of imprisonment and payment of five hundred thousand rupees in fines.
Few of the 25-pages long verdict have appeared on social media, in which the judge has sentenced the accused to 22 years of imprisonment under three sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The accused has also been asked to pay up to 500,000 rupees to the state as fines. The Commissioners of Gilgit and Baltistan have been ordered to sell the accused’s property, as punishment for publication of ‘fraudulent and defamatory stories’, without providing any evidence.
The sections under which the penalties have been announced are: Section 500 of Pakistan Penal Code (Defamation), Section 506 (Criminal Intimidation), Section 7 (h) of Anti-Terrorism Act (Committing acts of terrorism), Section 21 (L) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (Punishment for absconder – [sic] …. [anyone who] absconds and avoids arrest or evades appearance before any inquiry, investigation or court proceedings or conceals himself, and obstructs the course of justice.
The counsel of the accused had approached the Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, the region’s second highest court, to transfer the case to another court.
In view of the request, the Chief Court had advised the Anti-Terrorism Court to not announce the verdict reached.
It is being reported that the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court had barred the ATC from announcing a verdict, because the defendant had requested for shifting of the case to a different court.