Supreme Court of Pakistan Rules Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Trial Unfair

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently made a significant announcement regarding the trial of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The court has unanimously opined that Bhutto was not given a fair trial. This observation was made during the hearing of a presidential reference on his death sentence.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who served as both the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan, was executed under the military regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The trial and execution took place in 1979 and have been a point of contention in Pakistan’s political and judicial history.

The Supreme Court’s opinion was announced by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa. He stated that the proceedings of the trial by the Lahore High Court and the appeal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan did not meet the requirements of the fundamental right to a fair trial and due process. These rights are enshrined in Articles 4 and 9 of the Constitution and later guaranteed as a separate and fundamental right under Article 10A of the Constitution.

Despite this observation, the Supreme Court also ruled that the verdict of Bhutto’s death sentence could not be changed as the Constitution and law did not allow so. Therefore, it will be maintained as a verdict4. The Supreme Court will issue a detailed opinion later.

The execution of Bhutto, at the age of 51, was carried out after a seven-member Supreme Court upheld the conviction4. Many believe this was done under coercion exercised by the then-military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq, who had toppled Bhutto’s government in 1977. Bhutto’s supporters, who later termed his hanging as a “judicial murder”, accused the military ruler and the apex court of colluding to hang an elected prime minister on trumped-up charges. They demanded the top court to undo the unjust treatment meted out to Bhutto.

The case was reopened in 2011 when then-president Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s son-in-law, sent a special case to the Supreme Court to revisit Bhutto’s conviction for abetment in a murder case and his eventual hanging4. Chief Justice Isa took up the case for hearing last year after becoming the chief justice.

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