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Targeted killings on rise despite pillion-riding ban

July 22, 2013
A large number of motorbikes parked at the Civic Centre where the headquarters of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and offices of other civic agencies are located. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/ White Star
A large number of motorbikes parked at the Civic Centre where the headquarters of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and offices of other civic agencies are located. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/ White Star

KARACHI: As the ban on pillion riding in the city is going to complete its four months, questions are being raised about its effectiveness in view of the failure of law-enforcement agencies to curb targeted killings, in most cases carried out by armed riders, as figures show that more than 850 people were killed during the last three months.

The pillion-riding ban was imposed in the last week of March and since then it has deprived nearly two million Karachiites of their cheap transport facility, forcing them to travel in smoke-emitting and worn-out buses, minibuses, coaches, etc, on a daily basis.

However, authorities still defend their decision to impose the pillion-riding ban in the city claiming that the ban is one of the several security measures to maintain law and order.

The home department had imposed the ban under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC) in the last week of March.

Sharfuddin Memon, a consultant to the Sindh home department, said that the ban was imposed on the recommendations of the police and other law-enforcement agencies. “They also recommend relaxing it when they feel it’s no more needed,” he said.

He claimed that the ban always helped in controlling killings on different grounds and also led to arrest of a number of suspects. However, he agreed that it was not a permanent solution and was always enforced under certain compulsions.

The official argument favouring the ban on pillion-riding fell short of convincing the common man who was being deprived of the cheap transport facility despite the fact that the number of killings in the city had increased manifold.

According to a recent report released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,726 people were killed in the city during the first six months of 2013 and 853 were targeted between April and June when the ban on pillion-riding was in place.

In April alone, 262 people were killed compared to the 258 killings during the corresponding month last year.

In May, 278 people were killed whereas last year’s death toll during that month was 244. The deadliest month, according to the report, of the first half of the current year was June when 313 people lost their lives compared to 229 killings reported in June 2012.

Rights’ activists criticised the provincial administration and found it looking for excuses and penalising the common man for the crimes committed by certain groups.

“We strongly believe that the ban on pillion-riding is a violation of basic human rights as defined in Article 8 of the Constitution,” said Intikhab Alam Suri of the Human Rights Network who once challenged the ban in the Sindh High Court.

The estimate shared by Excise and Taxation director general Muhammad Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui suggests that almost two million people of Karachi have motorbikes, which they also use for carrying pillion passengers.

“Some 1.5 million motorbikes are registered with the Sindh excise and taxation department in Karachi,” he said. “But there are almost half a million bikes which are originally registered in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan but used in Karachi. So if we do maths the number touches almost 1.9 or two million.”

Besides inconvenience to the people, the police always use the ban on pillion riding as a tool to mint money.

The police arrest and book any violator of the ban under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code. The violator has to spend at least a night in the lock-up befor being produced in court, which released him on bail or on a personal bond.

During the last four months thousands of pillion-riders were arrested in every part of the city, but there were many who managed to avoid the legal action by greasing the palm of the policemen.

Owais Ali, a third year student, told Dawn that he was caught twice while riding as a pillion passenger. The first time he spent a night in the lock-up, but the second time he and his friend gave Rs200 to the police for their release.