The acquittal of Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz in all but one of the 27 cases registered against him has triggered speculation about a deal between him and Pakistani authorities, according to a media report on Monday.
Last month, Aziz, his wife and two other clerics of the radical mosque in the heart of Islamabad were acquitted in a case over the kidnapping of some policemen in May 2007. He now faces only one case for allegedly threatening shopkeepers in Aabpara and Jinnah Super markets for selling Indian and English movies.
In this matter too, the chances are that Aziz will get off as the prosecution's case against him is a weak one, the Dawn newspaper quoted its sources as saying.
Though Aziz has been let off in over two dozen cases involving serious charges, the government has not appealed against a single acquittal and this has triggered speculation about a deal, the report said.
The 27 cases were registered against Aziz before and after a military operation in 2007 against extremists and terrorists holed up in the Lal Masjid.
Aziz was caught by security personnel while trying to sneak out of the mosque wearing a burqa. He was freed from house arrest in 2009.
Special prosecutor Raja Faisal, who appeared in cases against Aziz, said the main reason for the cleric's acquittal in several cases were prosecution witnesses, who either changed their testimony or did not appear in court. He also blamed poor investigation by the Islamabad Police.
In a case related to the murder of some Pakistan Rangers personnel, government officials who had recorded statements against clerics, including Aziz, backtracked when they appeared in an anti-terrorism court.
While recording their statements, the officials had accused Aziz and others of giving the orders for opening fire and damaging government property.
However, when they appeared in court, they said that they had escaped from the scene when a mob was attacking government property.
In statements recorded in court, the officials simply said they fled to save their lives when a mob came out of the Lal Masjid and began setting a government building on fire. They did not directly blame Aziz or any his associates for the violence.
Similarly, Faisal said shopkeepers who filed a complaint with the police that people from Lal Masjid had burnt CDs of films, also changed their statements.
In court, the shopkeepers said that they had offered to burn the CDs themselves.
According to Faisal, police registered several cases against Aziz in a hurry but did not have sufficient evidence. However, Islamabad Chief Commissioner Tariq Mehmood Pirzada said the government ad not entered into any settlement with the Lal Masjid's management and Aziz's acquittal was purely a legal matter.
Lal Masjid counsel Mohammad Wajihullah Khan too said that the mosque's management never negotiated with the government.
Tensions between the Lal Masjid and the government started in early 2001, when Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who was killed in the military operation, started delivering aggressive speeches against the regime of military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The first case against them was registered in September 2001 for delivering fiery speeches.