For the second time, a Pakistani court today sought a larger bench to hear a petition to prove the innocence of legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in the murder case of a British police officer after the plea was last heard nearly three years ago.
A Lahore High Court (LHC) two-member division bench, headed by Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan and constituted by chief justice Ijazul Ahsan, conducted the hearing of the petition, nearly 85 years after Singh’s execution by the colonial government.
Justice Mahmood, however, referred the case to the chief justice for constitution of a larger bench after petitioner Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Qureshi argued that a three-member bench had awarded death sentence to Singh, and therefore, a larger bench not less than five members should be formed to hear the plea.
After the hearing, advocate Qureshi – also chairman of the Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation – said that the court had accepted his plea to constitute a larger bench for hearing of the plea.
“Under the law only a larger bench comprising more than three members could undo the decision of the three-bench
member that had awarded death sentence to Bhagat. We have also requested the LHC for regular hearing of the case,” he said.
Last hearing of the petition was held by Justice Shujaat Ali Khan in May, 2013 when he referred the matter to chief justice for the constitution of a larger bench.
The chief justice then formed the two-member bench that held its first hearing today.
In the petition, Qureshi said Singh was a freedom fighter and fought for independence of undivided India.
Singh was hanged by British rulers on March 23, 1931, after being tried under charges of hatching a conspiracy against the colonial government.
He said Singh was initially jailed for life but later awarded death sentence in another “fabricated case”.
The petitioner further said Singh is respected even today in the subcontinent not only by Sikhs but also Muslims and that the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah had paid tribute to him twice during his speech in the central assembly.
“It is a matter of national importance and should be fixed before a full bench,” he said and pleaded the court to set aside the sentence of Singh by exercising principles of review and order the government to honour him with state award.
Earlier in 2014, the Lahore police had provided the copy of FIR to the petitioner on the court’s order. Singh’s name was not mentioned in the FIR of the murder of British police officer John P Saunders for which he was handed down the death sentence.
Eighty-three years after his hanging, Lahore police searched through the record of the Anarkali police station on court’s order and managed to find the FIR of Saunder’s murder.
Written in Urdu, the FIR was registered with the Anarkali police station on December 17, 1928 at 4:30 pm against two ‘unknown gunmen’. The case was registered under sections 302, 1201 and 109 of the Indian Penal Code.
Petitioner Qureshi said special judges of the tribunal handling Singh’s case awarded death sentence to him without hearing the 450 witnesses in the case. Singh’s lawyers were not given the opportunity of cross-questioning them, he said.
“I will establish Bhagat Singh’s innocence in the Saunders case,” he said.