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ATCs show unusual alacrity in terror convictions

Updated February 24, 2015
Photo shows a judge's hammer.—Reuters/File
Photo shows a judge's hammer.—Reuters/File

LAHORE: Anti-terrorism courts in Punjab are convicting terrorists at an unprecedented speed, indicating as if no such case will be left for trial by the military courts constituted mainly on the premise of weak and flawed criminal justice system.

The speed has been shown after the constitution of the military courts, deciding cases pending decisions for years for reasons like “want of proper investigation and witness protection”. Appeal courts too are upholding the decisions by the trial courts with equal promptness.

“If the speed is maintained there will be no case left for the military courts at least in Punjab. And the efficiency will even obviate the justification of the military courts made on the belief that the civilian criminal justice system was too weak to face terrorists,” said a source in the Punjab government dealing with the terrorism cases.

According to the official figures, out of the 70 high-profile terrorism cases, the anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) have convicted the accused in 40 since the establishment of military courts in January this year. The number of decided cases of less destruction registered under the anti-terrorism laws is in addition to this.

The government had selected 52 cases pending with the anti-terrorism courts for their trial in the military courts early this month but the number has now been reduced to just 10. This has happened as the 42 cases have either been decided by the trial courts or rejected by the higher authorities in the province.

And authorities expect the list to come to none in the next few days in view of expected convictions in these remaining 10 selected high-profile cases.

The speed can be gauged by the conviction of the accused in seven different cases of explosives by a Rawalpindi ATC in one go early this week.

Punjab may not need military courts’ help

The following figures also show the period of pendency in cases of terrorism which claimed countless lives and shook the country, and their final decisions by the ATC and the appeal courts in the last two months.

The Wah Cantt suicide took place on Aug 21, 2008. The terrorist Hameedullah was arrested. The ATC had convicted him on Jan 1, 2011, awarding him death sentence on 69 counts. The LHC’s Rawalpindi Bench upheld the conviction on Feb 17, 2015.

The Sakhi Sarwar, Dera Ghazi Khan, terrorism case was registered on April 3, 2011 and the trial court had convicted terrorists Behram Khan and Umer Fidai on March 6, 2013. The LHC’s Multan Bench upheld the conviction on Feb 3, 2015.

Lahore’s Rescue 15 and ISI Office attack took place on May 27, 2009. And the ATC has awarded death sentence on 47 counts to terrorists Abid Akram, Sarfraz and Shabeer on 47 counts on Jan 30, 2015.

The suicide attack on the residence of Sardar Zulfikar Khosa was launched on Dec 15, 2009, and the Dera Ghazi Khan ATC convicted terrorists Sadiq Gabol and Muhammad Haneef Gabol in September 2014, awarding them death sentence on 27 counts. The LHC’s Multan Bench upheld the conviction on Jan 20, 2015.

The blast of huge amount of explosives stored in his house by Master Riaz took place on July 13, 2009, levelling the entire village. The terrorist was awarded 13-time death sentence by the ATC on June 26, 2012. The LHC’s Multan Bench upheld the conviction on Jan 19, 2015.

The Qadiani worship place in Model Town was attacked in May 2010 killing many people of the community there. The case was pending with a Lahore ATC which finally convicted terrorists Muavia and Abdullah on Jan 17, 2015.

Four police officials were murdered by terrorist Muhammad Shafi in Lodhran on Aug 12, 2007. The Multan ATC convicted him on Sept 22, 2012. The LHC’s Multan Bench upheld the conviction on Jan 29, 2015.

Six terrorists were arrested with three vehicles laden with explosive material in Sadiqabad on June 6, 2008. They were convicted by a Rawalpindi ATC on Aug 31, 2010. A pending appeal was decided by the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench on Jan 27, 2015, upholding the conviction.

The ISI Multan office was attacked in 2009. The Multan ATC awarded death sentence on 22 counts to terrorists Abdul Raheem, Sajjad and Afzal on Jan 13, 2015.

Sources attribute the speed to the resentment of people, their moral pressure and the blame that the military courts have been constituted due to apathy of the criminal justice system. They said a little effort to gather relevant evidence and follow the required procedure was leading to the quick decisions.

The Wah Cantt terrorism attack in which 69 people were killed was pending decision because of the missing single eyewitness, a Subedar Major, who had fled to his native Dera Ghazi Khan under pressure from the terrorists.

He was called, assured of full protection by the military and civilian authorities, properly briefed under the law and he recorded his witness, enabling the LHC Rawalpindi Bench to uphold the conviction of terrorist Hameedullah just five days ago.

Sources quote an example of the 1998’s Karachi operation to suggest that civilian criminal justice system can deliver if it is desired. They said the government promulgated the Armed Forces in Aid of Civil Powers Ordinance in 1998 to provide for military courts for the trial of criminals and terrorists with the view that the gangsters were too much for the Karachi civilian system.

The ordinance was annulled by the court on a petition filed by Sheikh Liaquat in early 1999. Taking it as a challenge the judiciary, the police, administration and political leadership joined hands and there were 90pc convictions by civilian courts in the terror-stricken city where it was hard to believe that a witness could dare record his statement against anyone. The then chief justice had himself selected the judges, police chiefs, their investigators and the government prosecutors, deputing those who had the courage to give justice, the sources said.

They said judges of the ATCs has vast powers to punish the police and other relevant government officials for any fault, making them help convict the accused without any delay. “Yes, lawyers can unnecessarily seek adjournments to delay the trial. But the judge can hold the trial on a daily basis to avoid such tactics,” a source said.

“It is true that trials were pending on the pretext of delayed submission of challans, improper and faulty investigations, lack of evidence and witnesses. It is also true that the same cases are now been decided promptly. It is abnormal but good,” the source said.

Published in Dawn February 24th , 2015

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