Islamabad: The trial of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks took an unexpected turn on Saturday when prosecutors alleged one of the defence lawyers possessed a fake degree and should be barred from appearing in court.
As Judge Rana Nisar Ahmed of the Rawalpindi-based anti-terrorism court began proceedings, the prosecution team produced an FIR filed against defence lawyer Shahbaz Rajput by officials of the Rawalpindi Bar Association that alleged he possessed a fake law degree.
The prosecutors demanded that Rajput be barred from appearing in the court.
The prosecution also produced the president of the Rawalpindi Bar Association in court to support their argument. Rajput contested the prosecution`s claim during the in-camera proceedings and produced documents saying that his degree had been verified by the Rawalpindi Bar Council, sources said.
The judge subsequently adjourned the case till January 8.
Rajput said the FIR had been filed against him on December 1 by the president and general secretary of the Rawalpindi Bar Association in a bid to "pressurise" him to stop acting as counsel for the suspects accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
"This is a malicious, illegal and malafide step to pressurise me. The prosecution wants to remove me from this case but I will continue defending my client because it is my right to do so," he said.
Rajput contended that it was the responsibility of the Rawalpindi Bar Council, and not the Rawalpindi Bar Association, to verify the authenticity of law degrees possessed by lawyers.
"I have got by degrees independently verified by the Bar Council and I have been practising law for almost eight years," he said.
"The general secretary of the Rawalpindi Bar Association, whose election was declared void by court, registered the case against me on behalf of elements who do not want me to defend the accused in the Mumbai attacks case," Rajput said.
The anti-terrorism court is not the forum to discuss the authenticity of his degree, he added. The trial of the Pakistani suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, has been mired in controversy and delays since last year.
The court has recorded the testimony of only one out of over 160 witnesses while the judge has been changed thrice.
Pakistani authorities are also yet to arrest 20 more suspects named in documents submitted in court in November last year.