President Asif Ali Zardari has signed the reference under Article 186 of the Constitution to revisit the case of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and give its opinion on the death sentence awarded to Pakistan’s first directly elected Prime Minister by the Lahore High Court and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in March 1979 in a split verdict.
The President signed the reference on Friday in the presence of Law Minister Babar Awan and Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza. Secretary to President Asif Hayat and Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar were also present.
Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the reference will now be sent to the Supreme Court by the law Ministry. Early this week the federal Cabinet authorized the President to send a Reference to the Supreme Court on this subject, he said.
Article 186 of the Constitution states: (1) “If, at any time, the President considers that it is desirable to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court on any question of law which he considers of public importance, he may refer the question to the Supreme Court for consideration”.
Clause 2 of the same Article states: “The Supreme Court shall consider a question so referred and report its opinion on the question to the President”. Farhatullah Babar said that the PPP had never intended to seek revenge but it wanted to put right a historic wrong and thereby vindicate the position of the founding Chairman of the Party.
He recalled that a former Judge of the Bench of the Supreme Court which upheld the death sentence had subsequently publicly acknowledged that the split verdict was given under pressure of the dictatorship of the time.
The former Prime Minister was executed on April 4, 1979 by the then military dictatorship disregarding appeals by the world leaders and amid serious reservations by international jurists about the legal propriety of the death sentence.
The body of the assassinated Prime Minister was flown secretly in the dead of the night to Larkana and buried secretly without permitting family members to attend the funeral and last rites. The then regime published in newspapers pictures of the funeral prayer to show that local people had attended the burial.
On investigation however, it was found that the few people shown in the picture taken on the occasion were not the locals and had apparently been brought from outside, he said.