Asma Jahangir on the controversial contempt of court thrown at activists and politicians at the whim of Pakistan’s judiciary.
Randomly surfing the World Wide Web today, I came across a couple of news articles that caught my attention and got me thinking.
First was this piece that talks about an elderly Muslim cleric who was “convicted Monday of funneling thousands of dollars to support the Pakistani Taliban terror organization, which is blamed for suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed both Americans and Pakistanis”.
The jury returned its verdict after the two-month trial of Hafiz Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a downtown Miami mosque. Khan was found guilty of all four charges: two conspiracy counts and two counts of providing material support to terrorists – “Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, whose office prosecuted the case. “Instead, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming.
Another similar incident that also caught my attention was when Reaz Qadir Khan, 48, was arrested at his home Tuesday on charges of providing support to a suicide bomber who participated in the 2009 attack that killed about 30 people and injured another 300.
The first question that popped in my head after reading these pieces was why is it that US courts can convict such culprits but not our domestic courts? Do we have to rely on foreign powers to deliver justice to us? All this while these culprits have repeatedly warned us? And received funding from us?
The frequency with which terrorists are acquitted by courts is considered one of the major failings of Pakistan’s judicial system. It came as a no surprise when it was revealed that an extraordinarily high number of the accused in terrorism and kidnapping for ransom cases have been acquitted. A piece in The Express Tribune magazine on August 5, 2012, cited an official report that stated that between 1990 and 2009, out of 311 cases, 231 resulted in acquittals. A US State Dept report also points out that Pakistan is incapable of prosecuting terror suspects and also reveals that three in four defendants are acquitted.
It found that while Pakistan maintained it was committed to prosecuting those accused of terrorism, a study of its Anti-Terrorism Court’s rulings last year disclosed “that Pakistan remained plagued by an acquittal rate of approximately 75 per cent”, and a legal system “almost incapable of prosecuting suspected terrorists”.
We have covered this issue numerous times in the past and will continue to do until our courts and judiciary claim responsibility. We see regularly the militants holding rallies and spreading messages of hate and bigotry on different media outlets and yet there are no steps taken, no counter-measure adopted. These same groups are carrying out armed attacks against innocent Pakistanis. Their leaders are receiving support from politicians and former intelligence officers and are let go by our judiciary citing “lack of evidence”.