On a March night earlier in the year, Mohammad Ehtesham left Disco Bakery area in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood for home on a motorcycle. When he reached near Rab Medical Hospital, a single bullet hit him from close range in the chest and he died before he could be shifted to a hospital.
His cousin Shahid, who is pursuing the case, tells the Herald that the police have made no progress in the investigation even though more than two months have passed to the incident. Shahid says Ehtesham neither had any political affiliation nor enmity with anyone but the manner in which he was killed with a single bullet shows he was targeted. Hundreds of cases of “target killing” – a term used by the media to describe murders largely of political activists and sometimes of professionals such as doctors and lawyers – are awaiting trial mostly because the police have either failed to complete the investigations or have left too many flaws to allow an effective trial to take place.
Documents the Herald has collected about such cases from different courts of Karachi as well as background interviews with legal experts reveal most of these flaws have resulted from official carelessness, inefficiency and incapacity. In fact, says former Sindh High Court judge Mehmood Alam Rizvi, in targeted killing cases police are leaving such procedural and legal lacunae that they normally do not leave in routine murder cases. It seems the police are only concentrating on showing increased arrests of suspected target killers to enable the government functionaries to claim that they are taking the problem seriously, he says.
Case records show the investigation and prosecution heavily depends on confessional statements of suspects. But in most cases such confessional statements are recorded by the police themselves rather than by a judicial magistrate, which makes them inadmissible in the court of law. This is what happened in the case of Shariq Nafees, Imran Ali and Atif. They were arrested by the Shahrae Faisal Police Station in August 2010 on the charges of possessing illegal weapons. But on the basis of their confessions, which the police claim to have extracted from them at different police stations of Karachi, the three were booked in 17 cases of targeted killing. Not in a single case, however, were they produced before a judicial magistrate to record their confessions. The court has, unsurprisingly, granted the three men bail in all but two cases of target killing.
The police should know better. The law of evidence “clearly mentions that confession of suspects in presence of police is not admissible and there are several judgments of the Supreme Court, which have set aside convictions by lower courts on the ground that the confession was recorded in the presence of police,” Rizvi points out.
That many suspected target killers have been able to get bail during their trials also means that the police cases against them are far from being sound. “Trial courts are usually very cautious before granting bails in murder cases. The grant of bail indicates that the prosecution case is suffering from serious flaws,” says Karachi-based senior lawyer Tariq Hamza, who is fighting cases of a number of murder suspects.
One such flaw is the inability of the police to collect factual evidence about a crime. There is little – if any – forensic investigation carried out (see Tips Versus Evidence on page 30). But Hamza says part of this failure can be compensated through strong circumstantial or corroborative evidence. In most of the targeted killing cases, however, the police come up with very weak circumstantial and corroborative evidence. Documents show, for instance, that the police fail to recover weapons used in the crime in a large number of cases even though they do recover spent bullet casings from the crime scenes. In cases where they recover the weapons, they never send them to government laboratories to establish that the bullet casings found at the crime scenes were fired from them. “The police deem it sufficient to superficially match spent bullet casings with the weapon they recover from a suspect,” Hamza says. That this turns out to be far from sufficient in a court of law does not seem to bother them much.
The Herald’s study of the case files shows that in most incidents of targeted killing the complainants have neither nominated anyone as accused in the First Information Report nor given a motive for the murder. Such cases in legal jargon are called “blind cases”. Rizvi says the post-arrest identification of the suspects by eyewitnesses constitutes an important piece of evidence in blind cases. “This makes it an imperative that the process of identification is completed in accordance with procedures laid down in the law,” he says. But the documents show that in most blind cases of targeted killing the police have not held an identification parade of the suspects at all. In cases where they have done so, the parade was held 10-15 days after the suspects were arrested — a delay not permitted under the law.
Another flaw that investigation and prosecution of targeted killing cases suffer from is the quality of witnesses. In many cases, the courts found out that the witnesses themselves were absconding from law in some other case, claims Hamza. According to him, the law-enforcement agencies have learnt no lessons from their failure to effectively prosecute thousands of political activists and ordinary citizens arrested in the troubled 1990s under charges which include targeted killing. “The police failed to establish their guilt before courts either because evidence was lacking or it was defective,” Hamza points out.
Iftikhar Tarar, the Karachi deputy inspector-general investigation, however, does not believe that the police commit mistakes in investigation and prosecution of targeted killings. “We have zero tolerance for negligence in the investigation of such cases” he tells the Herald. “There can be lack of training but there is no lack of will,” he says.