A NINE-MONTH-old baby boy, who was accused of attempting to murder police officers during a disturbance over unpaid gas bills in Pakistan, has had the charges against him dropped.
Baby Musa Khan sat in his grandfather’s arms and suckled on a bottle of milk when the judge dismissed the charges early yesterday in the courtroom in the eastern city of Lahore.
It was in sharp contrast to the scenes on 3 April when the baby was photographed crying bitterly as officials attempted to obtain his fingerprints.
The photograph was seen around the world and has brought Pakistan’s legal system into further disrepute.
However, yesterday, the child was freed by a judge after a court hearing during which the police said they had decided to drop the charge of attempted murder against him.
Irfan Sadiq, his defence lawyer, said: “Police told the court that the nomination of Musa in the case of attacking police and gas company officials was a human error and Musa is not required.”
The baby was taken to court the week before as part of an investigation of an incident where residents in his neighbourhood had clashed with local police.
The lawyer said officers had registered the case against the youngster and his family without investigating and the judge had sought an explanation. The case highlights an often dysfunctional criminal justice system where even children are not immune from questionable legal decisions.
Musa and his adult relatives were charged with attempting to murder a policeman amid chaotic scenes as officers and gas company workers tried to collect payment on overdue bills.
Police – notoriously under-trained and ill-educated in most of Pakistan – registered a case against the whole family. The baby’s grandfather, Muhammad Yasin, and his three sons still face charges.
The incident began on 31 January, when police officers and gas company staff arrived in the neighbourhood to disconnect homes they insisted had failed to pay gas and electricity bills.
The police said they were pelted with stones by angry residents and that neighbourhood women attacked officers with batons. Following the alleged attacks, the police, led by Atif Zulfiqar, began an investigation into what they classified as “attempted murder” and named 30 people in the neighbourhood, including all the male members of the Yasin family.
When the police arrived at their home looking for Musa Khan, they were told he was less than a year old and could not have taken part in the alleged disturbance.
The family were ordered to take him to court so that he could be charged. He was then released on bail.
He returned to court to have his fingerprints taken, and it was images of this which were seen around the world. Though he was soothed by having his bottle of milk, he tried to grab journalists’ microphones as his grandfather complained about his treatment.
The family then moved him to the neighbouring city of Faisalabad to protect him.
Earlier in the week the family’s lawyer said that the police “blindly” registered the attempted murder case against the baby and that the entire case was related to a property dispute between a landlord and tenants, including the baby’s family.
However, officer Zulfiqar insists the family is lying and that the police did not target the infant, but had wanted to find a grown-up son they still believe the family is hiding.
Babar Awan, an expert on Pakistani law, said the judge should have thrown out the case the day the baby appeared in court.
He said: “There is a flaw in the legal system and it needs to be reformed.”