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KARACHI: A proposal of the law enforcement agencies about registering cases against street criminals under terrorism charges to eliminate the menace has been turned down on “technical and legal grounds” as legal experts believe that such a move against the arrested suspects cannot stand up in a court of law for conviction, officials and sources said on Wednesday.

The suggestion from the law enforcement agencies — both the Karachi police and Pakistan Rangers, Sindh — to bring terror charges against street criminals has often emerged during off- and on-the-record interactions between officials and the media. In July, the Rangers gave a detailed briefing to the Sindh apex committee about street crimes and recommended that the cases be registered against such criminals under the anti-terrorism law.

However, a senior official said that after months of deliberations and discussions within the law enforcement institutions and feedback from their respective legal branches, it emerged that the terror charges against a street crime suspect would not serve the purpose and the prosecution would most likely fail to prove its point in a court of law.

Legal experts suggest charges under Anti-Terrorism Act may not stand up in court

“The law enforcement agencies first discussed it within their respective institutions,” said a senior police official wishing not to be named.

“During preparation of the proposal, the police authorities arguing in favour of applying the anti-terror law against street crime suspects say that such armed men in fact cause panic and fear in the society when they rob any individual or a group on a road, street or thoroughfare.”

However the legal experts, he said, when contacted and brought into the discussion did not agree with the argument declaring it weak when it would come to a court of law.

In case of an FIR registered under sections of the anti-terror law, the prosecution would find it hard to prove it in court, the police officer said citing feedback from the legal experts.

Street crimes pose a huge challenge

Despite a significant decline in other criminal activities, including targeted killing on ethnic, sectarian and political grounds, and terrorism-related incidents amid Rangers-led targeted operation in the city, street crimes remain a challenge for the law enforcement agencies.

In 2016 when major criminal activities saw a significant drop in the city, robberies and incidents of theft and snatching of motorcycles and mobile phones — key indicators of street crimes — witnessed a sudden rise when compared with 2015 crime data.

The Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) crime data of the past two years says that incidents of motorcycle theft had increased by 25 per cent in 2016 as compared to 2015 though motorcycle snatching incidents had dropped by 15pc during the same period.

Similarly, mobile phone snatching incidents had increased by 10pc in 2016 as compared to 2015.

The official data of registered crimes provided by the Karachi police and the CPLC shows the failure of authorities to rein in street crimes while throwing into question the very effectiveness of the ongoing targeted operation, which has completed its fourth year in the metropolis.

The authorities argue that it is not only the capability of the police force and effective strategy on the part of the law enforcement agency, but there are other multiple elements as well which are missing for a forceful fight against street crimes.

“The suggestion to introduce anti-terror charges against the suspects was made in the same spirit, but we couldn’t make it. There are other measures as well which need to be addressed on a fast track. The key proposal is regarding technological assistance to win this fight [against street crimes] and for that the police can only suggest and wait for the execution from the quarters concerned,” added the official.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017