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Pakistan Officials: Most Arrested In Malala Yousafzai Attack 'Secretly Acquitted'

In April we quoted Pakistani officials as saying that 10 men arrested in the near-fatal shooting of Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai had been convicted in a secret trial and sent to prison for 25-year jail terms. Authorities now say that's not true — all but two of the men were "secretly acquitted" and set free.

The two men who weren't acquitted were actually handed life sentences, the officials say.

Reuters reports that the men were "freed," but Saleem Marwat, the district police officer in the Pakistan's Swat region, tells NPR's Philip Reeves that "only two were convicted. The other eight were never convicted, so it is wrong to say that eight convicted were released."

Philip notes that in South Asia it is "common for police to respond to public pressure by arresting large numbers of people who turn out to be unrelated to the crime in question, including relatives of suspects."

According to the BBC:

"The secrecy surrounding the trial, which was held behind closed doors, raised suspicions over its validity.

"The court [judgment] — seen for the first time on Friday more than a month after the trial — claims that the two men convicted were those who shot Ms Yousafzai in 2012.

"It was previously thought that both the gunmen and the man who ordered the attack had fled to Afghanistan."

Yousafzai was shot in the head by members of the Pakistani Taliban in Swat Valley in October 2012 for her activism to get girls and women access to education. She went on to become the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.