Pakistani officials kept secret the acquittals of eight men accused of involvement in the October 2012 shooting of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Only two of the 10 men tried were convicted, but the officials chose not to clear up confusion caused by inaccurate media reporting in April – probably to gain political mileage for acting decisively against Yousafzai’s attackers.
It was widely reported all 10 had been convicted by an anti-terrorist court in Yousafzai’s native Swat and sentenced to life imprisonment or 25 years.
The acquittals were revealed Friday by the popular British tabloid The Mirror, after its reporters looked for the 10 men in prisons across Pakistan and only found two.
Saeed Naeem, the public prosecutor for Yousafzai’s native Swat region, said he hadn’t corrected the misreporting because “it is not our duty to issue rebuttals to the press, nor are we authorized to do so.”
He said the two men convicted – identified only as Izhar and Israrullah – have each been sentenced to 46 years imprisonment for the attack on Yousafzai. The shooter, Ataullah Khan, is one of four suspects who have evaded capture.
Naeem said the not-guilty verdicts against the eight suspects had been appealed in the Peshawar high court.
However, human rights lawyers in Yousafzai’s hometown, Mingora, said the entire case against the alleged attackers was dubious.
“This is totally beyond comprehension: There are no court case files for the accused and convicted,” said Sher Mohammed Khan, a Swat-based lawyer and representative of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
“Nobody knows who they are, how their trial was conducted, who appeared before the prosecutor, and who represented the accused – it’s a classic example of denial of free trial,” he said.
Friday’s revelations also have raised suspicions about the timing of the September 2014 arrests, which came just a month before Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
She shared it with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarti.
Earlier, Yousafzai had been widely viewed with mistrust in Pakistan, where many people considered her a poster girl for the West.
Public skepticism about Yousafzai didn’t begin to dissipate until last September, when the military announced it had caught her would-be assassins.
Yousafzai first emerged as a celebrity in 2009 after admitting to be “Gul Makai,” the author of an Urdu-language diary about life under Taliban occupation in Swat, broadcast by the BBC.
Aged just 11, she highlighted the Taliban’s banning of girls’ education, becoming the first Pakistani activist to defy the Taliban’s repression of women and girls.
For that, she was targeted for killing by terrorist chief Mullah Fazlullah, another Swat native.
Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban assassin in October 2012 while seated in a van parked outside her school in Mingora.
Two other teenagers, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Rehman, were injured in the attack.
Yousafzai survived because of a multinational effort to save her life.
She was evacuated to Britain for specialist medical care in a United Arab Emirates’ government aircraft and underwent reconstructive surgeries to restore her eyesight and hearing.
After recovering, Yousafzai won admirers worldwide by resuming her eloquent campaign for a child’s right to education.
The Taliban “thought the bullet would silence us, but they failed,” she told the United Nations General Assembly in July 2013, nine months after being shot.
McClatchy special correspondent Ghulam Dastageer contributed from Peshawar.