A court in Pakistan has acquitted 18 police officers, including a former senior police official, over the 2018 killing of a Pashtun man in Karachi that triggered protests and a social media outcry.

Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model and a textile factory worker, was fatally shot along with three other people during what police described as a raid

on a hideout of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group. Mehsud’s family and the TTP denied that the 27-year-old was a member of the group.

On Monday, the “anti-terrorism” court in Karachi said the prosecution was unable to provide substantial evidence against Rao Anwar,

a former senior superintendent of police in the southern city, and 17 other defendants. A detailed verdict is expected to be issued at a later date.

It also said the prosecution was unable to prove that Mehsud and the three others were kidnapped and subsequently shot in a “fake encounter” by Anwar and his team in January 2018.

Jibran Nasir, the lawyer representing Mehsud’s family, said it would appeal the verdict, which he called a “travesty of justice”.