ISLAMABAD: In a stark reminder of the fact how badly the country’s judicial system needs reform, it took a ‘death-row convict’ almost a quarter of a century to be acquitted of a murder charge when the Supreme Court on Friday ordered his release.

The three-judge bench ordered immediate release of Mazhar Farooq for want of solid prosecution and owing to weak evidence against him.

The bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa accepted the appeal filed by Farooq, a resident of Qaseer Singh Wala village in Kasur district, and set aside the death sentence awarded to him by the trial court and upheld by the Lahore High Court verdict in 2009.

The nightmare for Farooq started to unfold 24 years ago.

In 1992, he was accused of killing a 22-year-old graduation student — Nisar Ahmed — on a grazing dispute when Farooq’s cattle-head entered the grounds of Mohammad Tufail, the father of the deceased. A verbal argument ensued which resulted in Nisar’s murder.

Lack of solid prosecution, weak evidence cited by SC in its decision

Asghar Ali Gil, who appeared on behalf of Tufail, argued before the Supreme Court that Farooq shot dead Nisar in broad daylight while entering the latter’s haveli in the presence of witnesses and decamped after the incident.

A murder FIR was lodged with the Saddar Kasur police station.

Farooq was declared a proclaimed offender by the trial court and arrested in 1996.

Advocate Mian Muzaffar Ahmed defended Farooq.

The apex court, however, found discrepancies in the medical report as well as statements of the witnesses which did “not aspire confidence”.

The police investigation suggested two gunshots were fired, but the medical report showed only one bullet had pierced the victim’s body.

The court noted that the weapon used in the crime did not belong to the suspect.

In addition, it said, the post-mortem examination was carried out 24 hours after the death and besides ocular evidence no independent evidence had been received.

The court also noted that the police had failed to collect empties from the crime scene.

Not satisfied with the case as developed by the prosecution, the court set aside the death conviction and ordered immediate release of Farooq if not wanted in any other case.

Recalling a recent case in which the apex court had acquitted two brothers only to find out that they had already been “wrongly” executed, senior lawyer and former advocate general for Sindh Barrister Khalid Jawed Khan felt that the death-row convict Farooq was lucky that he did not end up dead like them.

In October, the apex court acquitted the two brothers — Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadir — in a 2002 murder case on the basis of contradictions in the statements of an eyewitness. However, it turned out that the two brothers had already been hanged at the Bahawalpur central prison in October 2015.

Barrister Khan agreed that delay was the “biggest problem” of the country’s legal system. He said that there were chronic delays not only in civil cases but also in criminal cases. “It [the delay] is, however, more in criminal cases.”

He said that although the judiciary was the only institution of the country where working began in the morning right on time and continued till evening, the number of judges was still insufficient to clear the backlog of cases. “There is a big gap between the population and the number of judicial officers.”

Published in Dawn November 26th, 2016


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