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Victims reluctant to become party in extortion cases

Updated June 10, 2013
In this file photo, protesters stand near burning tyres which were set ablaze by angry shopkeepers during their protest demonstration against extortionists at MA.Jinnah road in Karachi.—APP
In this file photo, protesters stand near burning tyres which were set ablaze by angry shopkeepers during their protest demonstration against extortionists at MA.Jinnah road in Karachi.—APP

KARACHI,: Amid growing complaints of extortion threats, mainly from businessmen and industrialists, investigators find it hard to pursue cases in the absence of formal complainants against more than 50 suspects who were arrested but not charged under the Anti-terrorism Act, which denies them bail and promises severe punishment if proven guilty.

Though the investigators claimed to have arrested some 57 suspects this year alone on complaints of different businessmen and industrialists, they said none of them was formally charged under Section 7 of the ATA since none of them came forward after their arrest to become a party in the case.

“During the past five months our cell has received 237 extortion complaints,” said SSP Farooq Awan of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), mandated to investigate heinous crime from bank robberies to terrorism and lately tasked with investigation of extortion cases under the anti-extortion cell.

“A total of 70 cases have been solved and we have also seized 98 SIMs (subscribers identity module) from suspects which were used in threatening calls. Our cell moves on any complaint and in most cases the complainants share with us only cellphone numbers from which they receive such calls.”

Only a day after taking oath as Sindh chief minister for the second consecutive term, Syed Qaim Ali Shah met prominent businessman at his residence and discussed proposals to handle the extortion menace. Though Mr Shah’s gesture was seen as encouraging by the business community, the investigators argue that despite their ‘proactive policing’ they are not receiving the required level of cooperation from the traders and industrialists.

“None of the 57 suspects arrested this year has been charged under the ATA. The issue is that the police trace and arrest suspects who call and demand extortion, mostly on businessmen’s complaints. The investigators bring every proof along that include key evidence, the SIM used in threatening calls, but the complainant never turns up,” said an investigator looking after a number of cases.

In that situation, he said, the police had no other option than to charge the suspects mostly with keeping illegal arms usually found in their possession. He said suspects could not be charged under the ATA on behalf of the state, particularly in extortion cases, as in the court of law the complainant or aggrieved party is required to prove them guilty.

The business leaders, traders’ bodies and association of a number of city markets, which keep raising voice against extortion and their anti-extortion move has led to a complete shutdown in protest a couple of times, do not deny the police claim but mention a number of reasons, including fear among their members.

“Obviously the businessman who receives calls for extortion is already under fear and only wants to be safe,” said Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Haroon Agar. “One cannot dare to expose himself for the sake of an FIR. Once he becomes a complainant, he feels that he, his business and family would be threatened more than before. That’s the reason that they avoid going into that risky process.”

However, he said, the KCCI and other bodies had put forward different proposals at the recent meeting with the chief minister to resolve the issue. For that purpose, he said, the government had promised to make a law addressing the concerns of both the police and the business community.