Pakistani authorities said that eight of the 10 militants charged for their involvement on the 2012 Taliban-led attack on Malala Yousafzai were acquitted in April — not sentenced to life in prison as was reported at the time.
“Each militant got 25 years in jail. It is life in prison for the 10 militants who were tried by an anti-terrorist court,” Sayed Naeem, a public prosecutor in Swat, told the Associated Press after the trial in April. In Pakistan, 25 years is considered a life sentence.
On Friday, Naeem said that only two of the 10 militants were imprisoned, and that the others were acquitted due to a lack of evidence. He denied making false claims, and said that reporters had previously misquoted him.
Azad Khan, Pakistan’s Deputy Police Chief, confirmed the acquittals after the Daily Mirror contacted him to locate the jailed militants. He offered no explanation for why officials neglected to set the record straight sooner.
“The trial had absolutely no credibility as nobody was there to witness it but a public prosecutor, a judge, the army and the accused,” an unnamed senior security official told London-based newspaper. “This was a tactic to get the media pressure away from the Malala case because the whole world wanted convictions for the crime.”
The stunning shift in facts about the case against those allegedly involved in the attack on Yousafzai only adds intrigue to Pakistan’s dubious record of holding terrorists to account.
According to Ilyas Khan of the BBC, Pakistani may have allowed the false information to stand in an effort to appear as though it’d taken a tougher stance terror.
“Amid the confusion over how the false information spread and why, what we do know is that Pakistan was under pressure,” he wrote. “Malala had been awarded the Nobel prize but no-one had been brought to justice, and Pakistan was keen to improve troubled ties with the US, UK and Afghanistan. And we know that, even if Pakistani officials did not purposefully spread misinformation, they allowed it to stand.”
“There’s a good deal that’s very strange about this,” Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute told ThinkProgress after the initial report about the convictions.
“If you’re trying to make a statement to the international community, why wasn’t this a highly publicized trial?” Weinbaum asked. He suggested that the secrecy around the April trial — no journalists were even aware that it was taking place — may have been because of the very mixed opinion Pakistanis have about Yousafzai, who some believe pandered to Western powers, or even worked for them.
But Pakistan has a record of releasing terror suspects with a slap on the wrists — or even less.
“This is the message it would like to send the world: it’s tough on extremists,” Weinbaum said. “And yet, what we’re witnessing here is that it’s very selective.”
Now it seems that Pakistani authorities are not just being selective about which terror suspects face harsh sentences, but also about how open and honest they are about their trials.