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Pakistan charges six Rangers over killing of civilian

world Updated: Jun 29, 2011 16:22 IST
Reuters
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A Pakistani court on Wednesday charged six members of a paramilitary force with murder for the killing of an unarmed man, a rare action against the country's powerful security establishment.

The incident, which took place this month in city of Karachi, was caught on videotape and broadcast on television, deepening anger against the security forces already tarnished by the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in May.

Pakistan's security establishment has suffered a series of setbacks since the United States kept the military in the dark about the special forces operation that killed the al Qaeda leader.

A handful of Pakistani Taliban militants assaulted a naval base in Karachi, causing further embarrassment.

The shooting of the unarmed man triggered fresh criticism of Pakistan's human rights record and an unpopular government, which many say has failed to rein in the police and army -- often seen as untouchable.

The accused Rangers will be tried in a civilian court. Such cases are usually taken up by the military. In an unusual move by civilian authorities, the highest court also ordered the transfer of the director general of the Rangers in Sindh, a serving two-star army general.

Pakistanis have traditionally been wary of criticising the army and its powerful intelligence service.

Piling pressure
It is still unclear if the charges would mark a shift towards tougher measures against the military and security forces. But analysts say they will likely come under greater scrutiny.

"Certainly in the long term it is going to pile pressure against the security forces who are often blamed for using indiscriminate force against civilians and also criminals," said political commentator Zahid Hussain.

The footage shows the soldiers from the Rangers force opening fire at close range at the man identified as Sarfaraz Shah in a public park in Karachi.

A civilian -- who has also been charged with murder -- is seen grabbing the victim by the hair and dragging him over to a group of Rangers. The unarmed man pleads for mercy, then one of the soldiers shoots him twice.

The footage also shows the victim falls to the ground and screams in pain, with the soldiers standing beside him.

He collapses in a pool of blood beside the park named after late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was seen around the world as a symbol of democracy.

The accused all denied the charges. They could face the death sentence if convicted.

In May, the killing of prominent Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad also caused an uproar. Shahzad, who reported on Islamist militants, was kidnapped in Islamabad and beaten to death.

He had earlier spoken of being threatened by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, raising suspicions the ISI was behind his death. The ISI denied the allegations.

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