As often as the police arrest some miscreants involved in bombing attacks and militancy, the courts continue to release the suspects citing lack of evidence and the need for a speedy trial. But honest citizens who follow the laws are not granted this same privilege. Why are militants given more rights than honest citizens?
Think about the hardships faced by any honest citizen who tries to get some justice from the courts. First, it is nearly impossible to even have your case heard before a judge. Even if you finally do get a hearing, it is likely years or decades too late. This inefficient and corrupt system of ‘justice’ is part of the reason that many in the tribal areas tolerated Taliban originally – they were able to provide swifter resolution to legal claims.
Waiting for the local court to open for the day, defence lawyer Noor Alamkhan shuffled a stack of cases and recalled one former client who filed for divorce from her husband when she was 28.
By the time her family finally won the case, she was 55.
“What good is that?” he asked, exasperated. “She’s too old by that time to marry.”
The expensive and snail-like pace of justice in Pakistan is seen as a key reason why a huge northwestern swath of the country fell under the rule of the Taliban earlier this year.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even complained of the rampant problems with the judicial system when he was reinstated by President Zardari.
‘In my opinion, lawyers will have to continue their struggle for dignity of this institution and make it more respectable,’ the chief justice said. Chaudhry is correct; the restoration of the deposed judges is only the first step in a long struggle for an independent, responsive and effective judiciary. The task ahead is nothing short of gargantuan.
From providing speedy justice in ordinary civil or criminal cases to putting in place a transparent mechanism for the selection of superior court judges, from making sense of the constitutional mess to shoring up a failing judicial infrastructure — there is no shortage of areas where change is needed.
But this problem of slow and unresponsive judiciary does not seem to effect everyone the same way. Actually, the courts are very quick to release suspects with ties to terrorism. Actually, it may be that there are two completely separate legal systems: A ‘quickly out of jail free’ system for militant extremists, and a ‘please come back tomorrow’ system for honest citizens. Daily Times reported that 75 percent of terrorism suspects were set free in Punjab.
As many as 629 terrorism cases were decided by anti-terrorism courts in 2009, of which suspects in 471 cases were acquitted, sources in the Punjab Public Prosecution Department and Punjab Police told Daily Times on Thursday.
Taking stock of the situation, CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has nominated Supreme Court Justice Shakirullah Jan as an administrative judge for all anti-terrorism courts (ATC) and Lahore High Court Judge Ijaz Chaudhry to monitor ATCs and examine exonerations in Punjab.
On April 24, a meeting presided over by Justice Shakirullah Jan would be held at the Supreme Court Registry in Lahore to examine the overall performance of ATCs, acquittals in terrorism cases, pending cases and the standard of investigation and prosecution.
As a follow up, Punjab Public Prosecution Department officials and the inspector general of Punjab police would meet today (Friday) to examine the current status of terrorism cases registered between January 1, 2005, and February 15, 2010, and some other pending cases registered before this period, sources in the IGP office told Daily Times.
Punjab Prosecutor General Syed Zahid Hussain Bokhari told Daily Times that special attention was paid to terrorism cases, which could spike the ratio of convictions in these cases. Punjab Police DIG (Crimes) Ayub Qureshi said the chief justice was focussing on terrorism cases. He said the Punjab IG had directed all regional police officers, city police officers and district police officers to improve the standard of investigation in terrorism cases, include concrete and solid evidence in case files and arrest proclaimed offenders as soon as possible.
Even the main suspect in the attack on Manawan police training academy has been released. Perhaps this should not be a surprise, though. The China news website People’s Daily Online has found that that militant groups are directing the courts to do their will.
Militants groups in Pakistan are being proven so strong that they manage the acquittal of their colleagues from cases and proceedings against them in courts by threatening the families of judges, witnesses and police officers, local media reported on Tuesday.
According to reports, hundreds of militants have been successfully released from jails due to non-availability of witnesses and proofs enough to sentence them according to law.
Recently Pakistan’s Lahore High Court took a strict notice about the acquittal of a criminal from a lower court who was arrested red-handed with a grenade during a terrorism attack on a police training academy in March 2009.
In another case family of anti-terrorism judge Mohammad Asim Imam performing duty in Pakistan’s northwestern Malakand Division, received threats from the armed Taliban, who visited their residence few days back.
The judge is currently dealing with terrorism cases of Sufi Mohammad, Pakistani Taliban’s spiritually whip, arrested last year during the military operation in the area.
Taliban visited their place, left a message for the family and the judge to fall in line or be ready for the consequences. They also ordered the family cook to tell the judge that they were after him and would soon sort him out.
For honest citizens who only want to get some small amount of justice in their lives, the wait can be forever. For militants, though, it is always a speedy trial and ‘get out of jail free’. What kind of a topsy-turvy legal system is it that gives more rights to terrorists than to honest citizens?