8 Malala Attackers Secretly Freed After Closed Military Trial, Despite Initial Claims That All 10 Had Been Convicted — REPORT

In a chilling turn of events, a report Thursday indicated that only two of Malala Yousafzai’s Taliban attackers were jailed in April for the attempted killing of the Pakistani schoolgirl. The news runs contrary to the official line, which stated that 10 men, all Taliban militants, had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the attack. Instead, eight Malala attackers were clandestinely acquitted and set free, The Daily Mirror reports. Yousafzai, an education activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was only 14 when she was shot in the head aboard her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2012. Championing girls’ education from a young age had rendered the schoolgirl a target.

On April 30, it was widely reported that 10 men (allegedly members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) had been sentenced to life in prison (25 years) for plotting the attack on Yousafzai. But an anonymous senior Pakistani security source told The Daily Mirror that eight of the charged men had been acquitted and released, “quietly, to avoid a media fuss.” The source went on to more fully denounce the judicial process as a show trial. “The trial had absolutely no credibility as nobody was there to witness it but a public prosecutor, a judge, the army and the accused,” the source said. “This was a tactic to get the media pressure away from the Malala case because the whole world wanted convictions for the crime."

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That only two men had been convicted was confirmed by both Azaad Khan, the police chief of Swat Valley (where the attack was carried out), and the Pakistan High Commission in London. Muneer Ahmed, spokesman for the High Commission, said that the eight had been released due to “not adequate evidence,” but insisted that the original court judgement had made clear that only two men had been convicted. This was not, in fact, the case. At the time, Sayed Naeem, a Swat-based public prosecutor, told the AP, “Each militant got 25 years in jail. It is life in prison for the 10 militants who were tried by an anti-terrorist court.”

As The Daily Mirror’s anonymous security source said, “[T]he truth is that, whether these acquitted men were involved or not in the Malala shooting, the public has been lied to. Ten men are not behind bars for the crime, as the Pakistani authorities would have us believe. That is a big lie.” The two men currently behind bars for the attack are named by the Mirror as Izharullah and Israr ur Rehman.

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As BBC points out, suspicions over the validity of the trial had been raised before these allegations, given the secretive nature of the court proceedings. The trial had been held in a military facility, and — like all anti-terrorism trials in Pakistan — was not open to the public. No judgment was released at the trial's end, and no official statements were made to contradict the widespread reports of 10 convictions. At the time the ruling was released, Prosecutor Naeem told reporters that the announcement was being made from an undisclosed location due to security concerns.

Early this year, a constitutional amendment in Pakistan authorized military courts to try terrorism suspects — which sparked concerns over the ability of such an opaque system to deliver fair trials. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said at the time that military courts “would lead to quick dispensation of justice and help the country eliminate the scourge of terrorism,” calling it representative of necessary “decisive steps ... to end [terrorism] once and for all.”

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Even prior to the reported group conviction, Pakistan’s authorities had been criticized for what was perceived to be an unnecessarily lengthy investigation. “This is a routine problem in Pakistan,” Pakistani political scientist Hasan-Askari Rizvi told The Daily Beast in 2012. “We don’t have proper investigations, our prosecutors are ill-equipped to handle terrorism cases, and there is no system to protect witnesses so no one speaks up.”

In April, when the convictions were announced, reporters were taken by surprise — none had been made aware that the trial had started, let alone finished. No information was given about how the men had been apprehended, how they were involved in the attack, or what the charges were. Even the initial reports of the suspects’ arrests emerged only six month after they were reportedly apprehended. Pakistani intelligence officials said the information had been kept secret for “operational reasons.”

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Yousafzai was treated for her injuries and made a full recovery. She now lives in Birmingham with her family — effectively exiled from Pakistan due to Taliban death threats. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

The Daily Mirror embarked on the investigation that exposed the decreased number of convictions after being frustrated in their attempts to locate the reportedly jailed men.

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