Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed appeals by the government against Jamat-ud-Dawaa chief Hafiz Saeed's release from house arrest for lack of evidence, in a setback to India's efforts to nail him for his involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks.
The apex court upheld the Lahore high court's rder to release Saeed from house arrest. The appeals against the court's order to release Saeed were filed by the federal and Punjab governments last year but could not be taken up earlier for various technical reasons.
"The appeals are dismissed," said Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, the head of the three-judge bench that heard the matter.
Saeed, the founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayiba, was put under house arrest in December 2008 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, after the United Nations Security Council declared the JuD a front for the LeT.
After he challenged his detention in the Lahore high court, Saeed was freed on June 2 last year by a three-judge bench that said the Punjab and federal governments had failed to provide sufficient evidence to keep him in custody. Following pressure from India and the international community, the federal and Punjab governments challenged the high court's ruling in the apex court.
Differences between the federal and Punjab governments and the change of certain legal officials of Punjab province held up the matter in the apex court.
India believes Saeed is the mastermind of the 26/11 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including foreigners, and was carried out by the LeT. New Delhi has been demanding action against him for his involvement. But, Pakistan has claimed that India has not provided any evidence that will allow authorities to act against Saeed.
The Supreme Court bench also upheld the high court's order to free two of Saeed's close aides, Colonel (retired) Nazir Ahmed and Maulana Amir Hamza.
Saeed's lawyer A K Dogar said the bench issued a short order that said the authorities had failed to produce any evidence that linked the JuD chief to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
"The prosecution failed to prove its case," said Dogar. He recalled that the Lahore high court had ruled that Saeed's detention in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks was wrong as there was no evidence against him.
"The appeals filed by the federal and Punjab governments were pending for long. When they came up for hearing today, the bench said the prosecution should take them back or present their arguments. They made their arguments but could not convince the judges," he said.
Additional Attorney General K K Agha, who appeared on behalf of the federal government, said there were allegations that Saeed was involved in the Mumbai terror attacks. The government also had to take action against him under UN Security Council resolutions, he said.
The bench asked Agha whether he had any fresh evidencel against Saeed. It also asked Agha whether Saeed had violated the law of the land or indulged in any 'objectionable activity' during the last one year when he was not under house arrest.
Agha told the court that Saeed was living a 'peaceful life'. The bench then observed that the liberty of a citizen is sacred and the law does not allow the detention of anyone without a lawful reason. Justice Jawad S Khwaja, another member of the bench, said a person's right to freedom cannot be taken away on the basis of mere assumption. The bench said it was compelled to dismiss the appeals as the government had failed to provide concrete evidence against Saeed.
However, it said the government could file a fresh appeal in the future if it is able to produce any new evidence. JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid said the SC ruling also lifted the stigma from the 'charity group'.
"With the grace of God, the court ruling in our favour proves that JuD, its chief and its workers are not terrorists," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Pakistani leaders like Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have contended that India has not provided any evidence that will allow authorities to act against Saeed.
Home Minister P Chidambaram has maintained that India has provided sufficient evidence against Saeed in several dossiers handed over to Pakistani authorities.