As many as eight of the 10 men jailed for the 2012 assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage child rights activist who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize, have been set free, raising suspicion over the validity of the secret trial, a media report said on Friday.
In April, 10 Pakistani Taliban militants were handed down 25-year jail sentences by an anti-terrorism court after holding them guilty. However, sources have now confirmed to the BBC that only two of the men who stood trial were convicted.
The secrecy surrounding the trial, which was held behind closed doors, has raised suspicions over its validity. Muneer Ahmed, a spokesman for the Pakistani High commission in London, said that the eight men were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Saleem Marwat, the district police chief in Swat, where the attack on Malala, then 15, took place, separately confirmed that only two men had been convicted. Ahmed claimed that the original court judgment made it clear only two men had been convicted and blamed the confusion on misreporting.
The acquittals emerged after reporters from the London-based Daily Mirror attempted to locate the 10 convicted men in prisons in Pakistan, the report added. The trial was held at a military facility rather than a court, a Pakistani security source told the BBC, and was shrouded in secrecy.
Anti-terrorism trials in Pakistan are not open to the public.Pakistani authorities did not make the judgment available at any stage, nor did they correct the reports over the past two months that 10 men had been convicted, it said.
Authorities also did not say when and where the men had been arrested or how they were linked to the attack, or explain the charges against them.
Malala was targetted by Taliban gunmen while she was returning home from school in the town of Mingora by bus which the gunmen boarded and asked for her by name before shooting her in the head.
She was treated for her injuries in the United Kingdom and currently lives in Birmingham with her family due to Taliban death threats.
Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, along with India's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, for standing up for the right to education of girls in Swat valley in 2007 when Taliban controlled the mountainous region, where she lived with her family.