Hafiz Saeed given five-and-a-half-year of imprisonment

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LAHORE: A court on Wednesday handed down a five-and-a-half-year prison term to Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed for terrorism financing. “Hafiz Saeed and another of his close aides have been sentenced in two cases of terrorism financing,” prosecutor Abdul Rauf Watto said. “The total punishment in both the cases was 11 years but he will serve five and a half years in jail as the two punishments will run concurrently,” Saeed’s lawyer Imran Gill said. “We will appeal against the verdict,” he added.

A Lahore anti-terrorism court convicted Jamatud Dawa leader and slapped with a prison sentence of five-and-a-half years and a fine of Rs 15,000 in each case. The court also granted him the benefit of Section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure (reduction of period of sentence of imprisonment).

Malik Zafar Iqbal, the secretary of Al-Anfaal Trust, has also been convicted in the same cases and has been awarded similar punishment. They were convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act Section 11-F (2) – pertaining to membership, support and meetings relating to a proscribed organisation – and 11-N (punishment under Sections 11-H to 11-K).

Section 11H relates to fundraising for the purpose of terrorism; 11-I is about the use and possession of money or other property for terrorism; 11-J relates to funding arrangements which result in money being made available for terrorism; while 11-K relates to money laundering.

The court directed authorities to keep Hafiz Saeed under custody until further orders.

The verdict was announced by ATC judge Arshad Hussain Bhatta. Saeed was also present in the courtroom while the judge read out the sentence. The court had reserved its verdicts in the two cases on February 6. Hafiz Saeed is nominated in multiple cases pertaining to money laundering, terror financing and land grabbing. The terror financing cases against Hafiz Saeed were filed by the Counter-Terrorism Department’s (CTD) Lahore and Gujranwala chapters. The case filed by CTD’s Gujranwala chapter was initially being heard in a Gujranwala ATC but was shifted to Lahore on the directions of the Lahore High Court. During the trial of both cases, the court recorded the statements of 23 witnesses. The unprecedented ruling came ahead of a meeting of a world financial watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), next week to decide whether to blacklist Pakistan over a failure to curb terrorism financing.

Amid pressure from the FATF to take action against Hafiz Saeed’s groups, Pakistan charged him in December with collecting funds for his organizations, which are listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations. He pleaded not guilty.

According to the CTD, the JuD was financing terrorism from the massive funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, etc. These non-profit organisations were banned in April last year as the CTD, during detailed investigations, found that they had links with the JuD and its top leadership. The government had announced a ban on JuD and Falah-e-Insanyat Foundation (FIF) to partially address the concerns raised by India that Pakistan supported these and six similar organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) or at least considered them low-risk entities. Law enforcement agencies over the next few weeks had intensified their crackdown on JeM, JuD, FIF and other banned outfits, and arrested more than 100 activists. Nearly 200 seminaries besides hundreds of other facilities and assets associated with them across the country were taken over by the government.

Hafiz Saeed has denied any involvement and says his network, which spans 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance services, has no ties to militant groups. The JuD said Pakistan has been taking what it said are illegal and unconstitutional actions lately against Hafiz Saeed and the groups, under pressure from West, and to please the FATF. Hafiz Saaed is also wanted by Washington and New Delhi for his alleged role in the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people in India. The US has put a $10 million bounty out for his arrest. Both India and the US praised Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government when it arrested the cleric last July on the charges of terror financing.

The JuD chief was arrested by CTD in July last year, while he was travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala. Prior to his arrest, 23 first information reports had been registered against JuD leaders, including Hafiz Saeed and JuD deputy chief Abdul Rehman Makki, at CTD police stations of Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Faisalabad and Sargodha in July 2019.

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