A new judge was appointed on Saturday to conduct the crucial trial of seven key suspects in the Mumbai terror attack case, replacing Judge Baqir Ali Rana who asked to be taken off citing "security issues".
Judge Malik Muhammad Akram Awan of anti-terrorism court replaced Rana on the orders of Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court Khwaja Mohammad Sharif. Rana was conducting in-camera the trial of the seven suspects, who included senior Lashker-e-Taiba operatives Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, in the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
The Chief Justice issued the order following a request from Rana to be taken off the case due to "security issues",sources told PTI.
There were reports that Rana received threats from the LeT because the suspects were indicted in the absence of their lawyers during a hearing on October 10.
Rana was also reportedly unhappy about pressure from the government regarding the case, sources said. Though a hearing of the Mumbai attacks case was scheduled for today, there were no proceedings due to the changing of the judge. The new judge will begin hearing the case from October 31, sources said.
At the same time, the four lawyers representing the suspects had accused Rana of being biased against their clients.
The defence lawyers filed a petition in the Lahore High Court challenging the indictment of the suspects and asking for the case to be transferred to some other judge, and this petition is scheduled to be taken up on October 26. However, there were differences of opinion on whether the petition would actually be taken up following the transfer of the Mumbai attacks case to a new judge.
Some experts said the petition would become infructuous after the change of the judge. Khwaja Sultan, one of the four defence lawyers, told PTI that he expected the Lahore High Court to take up the petition as it had challenged the indictment of the suspects and the alleged interference of the interior ministry in the case.
The Mumbai attacks case has become mired in controversy over the past few weeks. The seven suspects Lakhvi, Shah, Abu al-Qama, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younas Anjum have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
They have been accused of training and providing financial support, accommodation, equipment and communications gear to the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai last year.
The defence lawyers also boycotted proceedings after accusing Judge Rana of indicting the suspects in their absence. The lawyers have also opposed to the trial being conducted in-camera.
The trial is being conducted in Adiala Jail due to security concerns and the media has been barred from attending the proceedings.
Rana was appointed the judge for the case in July after the previous judge was removed as part of judicial reforms. Before Rana's appointment, proceedings were stalled for over a month as the court was without a judge.