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Malala acquittals

Updated June 07, 2015

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Were it not for a British newspaper that broke the news of the exonerations on Friday, would the authorities here have ever revealed the truth themselves?  — Reuters/file
Were it not for a British newspaper that broke the news of the exonerations on Friday, would the authorities here have ever revealed the truth themselves? — Reuters/file

The convictions took the country by surprise: an anti-terrorism court operating in secrecy inside a military-controlled internment centre in Swat had handed life sentences to 10 individuals involved in the attack on Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.

News of the convictions in April was the first public indication that a trial was even being held to begin with.

Now, there is widespread outrage and disbelief at the news that eight of the 10 men allegedly convicted for the attack that shook the country — and moved the world — were never actually convicted and instead were exonerated for lack of evidence.

Read: Swat ATC sentences 10 to life imprisonment in Malala attack case

Surprise that gave way to satisfaction that has now turned into outrage — perhaps the truly troubling aspect of this episode is how little information has been released to the public. Who were the 10 accused? What was the evidence against them? What did the defence argue? Where are the exonerated men now? What of the two men convicted?

There are no answers and, worse yet, there is still no indication from either the government or military that answers will be provided, whether now or at all.

Also read: Eight Malala shooting suspects acquitted still in custody: officials

If ever there has been an unacceptable state of affairs, it is the circumstances surrounding the trial of Malala Yousafzai’s alleged attackers.

Eight men have been exonerated by an ATC operating in the bowels of a detention centre that is secretive and opaque in a trial that resulted in the conviction of two other men.

That alone raises questions about just how flimsy the prosecution’s evidence may have been or possibly about how poorly organised or overconfident the prosecution was.

Surely, this is a dramatic, shocking revelation that cannot be ignored by the relevant powers-that-be.

If failure is possible in a case as high-profile as the one involving Ms Yousafzai’s alleged attackers, what does that say about the quality of the evidence and investigative and prosecutorial competence in hundreds of other, less high-profile cases?

But the silence continues — adding to the growing impression that neither the government nor the military authorities take their constitutional and legal responsibilities seriously when it comes to the criminal justice system.

The system increasingly appears to be about focusing on public relations victories rather than actual justice. Were it not for a British newspaper that broke the news of the exonerations on Friday, would the authorities here have ever revealed the truth themselves? Troublingly, the answer appears to be ‘probably not’.

Take a look: Malala: Wars never end wars

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2015

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