Of the 10 men who had been supposedly convicted and sentenced to jail for the attempted murder of Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai, officials are now reporting that 8 have been cleared of the charges.
Pakistani Taliban militants shot Yousafzai in the head in October of 2012 during an attack on a school bus. The attack also wounded two of her friends.
While legal and security officials had originally announced in April that a court had sentenced 10 men to life in prison as a result of the attack, reports from Salim Khan Marwat, the Swat district police chief, now say that 8 of the 10 men have been acquitted by an anti-terrorist court. The other two men were convicted and are currently serving their 25-year sentence.
“Two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment while eight others were acquitted,” he said. “I have no knowledge where the eight persons are now — either in military custody or released.”
The men had been held by the army with the trial kept secret from the public until its conclusion. No media presence was allowed for any of the hearings. However, Azad Khan, the deputy inspector general of police for Malakand division, as well as an additional senior court official, confirmed the story, adding that the trial was held under military supervision.
“Two of them were convicted and eight others were acquitted because of insufficient evidences and no proofs,” the official said. “The two, Israrullah and Izhar were sentenced to [a] 25-years jail term, which is equivalent to life imprisonment.”
Meanwhile, a separate senior court official in Mingora maintained that the court had sentenced all 10 men to life in prison and that the police were lying.
According to another security official who wished to remain anonymous, a secret retrial took place attended only by a judge, a public prosecutor and members of the armed forces. “10 men are not behind bars, as the Pakistani authorities would have us believe. That is a big lie,” the official told the Daily Mirror.
“The trial had absolutely no credibility as nobody was there to witness it but a public prosecutor, a judge, the army and the accused,” the source added. “This was a tactic to get the media pressure away from the Malala case because the whole world wanted convictions for the crime.”
Yousafzai survived the attack and has since gone on to become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize due to her efforts to ensure that all children have the right to attend school, writes Jack Moore for Newsweek.
Ataullah Khan, the man officials believe to be the one who fired the gun at Yousafzai, is currently on the run, possibly in Afghanistan. Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack, is also missing and considered to be on the run.