Officials claim the men were released due to lack of evidence but may still be in military custody.
Eight of the 10 men supposedly convicted and jailed for attempting to murder schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai were actually cleared, officials said on Friday.
The Pakistani Taliban shot Yousafzai in the head in October 2012 after the militants boarded her school bus in an attack that also wounded two of her friends and shocked the world. In April, legal and security officials announced that a court had sentenced 10 men to life imprisonment over the attack, following a trial in Yousafzai’s hometown of Mingora.
The Army detained the suspects during a major anti-militant offensive and the existence of the trial was kept secret until after its conclusion. No media were present for any hearings.
Salim Khan Marwat, the Swat district police chief, said that contrary to the earlier announcement, the anti-terrorist court had cleared all but two of the suspects. “Two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment while eight others were acquitted,” he said. “I have no knowledge where the eight persons are now—either in military custody or released.”
Azad Khan, the deputy inspector general of police for Malakand division, of which Swat forms a part, confirmed the details and said the trial had been held under military supervision. A senior court official with close knowledge of the case also confirmed the news, which emerged in a report in Britain’s Mirror newspaper.
“Two of them were convicted and eight others were acquitted because of insufficient evidences and no proofs,” the official told AFP. “The two, Israrullah and Izhar were sentenced to 25 years jail term, which is equivalent to life imprisonment.”
A senior security official in Mingora insisted the court had sentenced all 10 men to life imprisonment, accusing the police of lying.
Yousafzai, now aged 17, survived the attempt on her life and in October last year became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history for her courageous and determined fight for children to have the right to go to school.
The man suspected of actually firing the gun at Malala, named by officials as Ataullah Khan, is believed to be on the run in Afghanistan, along with Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack. Pakistan’s military announced the arrest of the 10 suspects in September 2014 as part of an operation that involved the Army, police and intelligence agencies.