US diplomat briefly held for killing biker in road accident in Islamabad

Updated April 08, 2018

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A journalist examines the SUV of an American diplomat parked inside a police station after an accident on Saturday.—AP
A journalist examines the SUV of an American diplomat parked inside a police station after an accident on Saturday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: A senior US diplomat stationed in Islamabad was briefly detained for killing a motorcyclist and injuring his pillion passenger in a hit-and-run on Saturday.

This is the third road accident in recent years in which US diplomats have hit and killed people in Islamabad, the capital city police said, adding that they got away with it because they had diplomatic immunity.

The incident took place in the afternoon on the foothills of the Margallas near the zoo. A fast-moving SUV, said to be driven by the US defence and air attaché, jumped the lights and hit a motorcycle carrying two men at a traffic signal.

The police said one of them, identified as Atiq Baig, 22, died due to a head injury. His cousin Raheel Ahmed also suffered injuries.

They said that the driver had tried to speed away but he was stopped at a nearby checkpoint, where police tried to question him.

He, however, refused to get off from the vehicle — a white Land Cruiser.

The area police arrived at the scene and asked the driver to surrender himself. Shortly, several locals and foreigners arrived there on different vehicles and introduced themselves as officials of the US embassy.

The man driving the vehicle was introduced as Col Joseph Emanuel Hall, the defence and air attaché at the US embassy in Islamabad. He asked the police to clear the way as he had diplomatic immunity, police said, adding that when they refused, they put up resistance.

Senior policemen then visited the spot and took the defence attaché and his vehicle, as well as a colleague, to the Kohsar police station. They asked the other US diplomats to submit written statements about the incident and the diplomatic status of the suspect, the police said, adding that later the driver was allowed to leave.

The police, however, impounded the vehicle and took the diplomat’s cards for verification, they added.

Secretariat Sub-Divisional Police Officer Assistant Superintendent Zohaib Nasarullah Ranjha told Dawn that a case was registered against the driver under Sections 279 (Rash driving or riding on a public way), 320 (Punishment for manslaughter by rash or negligent driving), 337-G (Punishment for hurt by rash or negligent driving) and 427 (Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The case was registered on the complaint of victim Baig’s father, who is a watchman at an Islamabad school. The injured man is his nephew.

He said the police had sent the documents and officials cards of the diplomat to the Foreign Office for verification. The case against Col Hall would be quashed and his vehicle released after the embassy and the FO confirmed his diplomatic status.

The deceased’s uncle, a general councillor of a union council, said that his nephew was a BA student working at a hotel to make money on the side.

Several people took to social media to protest against the favourable treatment given to the US diplomat. The police responded in a blog stating that the accident had taken place at the Damn-i-Koh traffic signal on Margalla Road. The police followed the due legal procedure and the attaché had diplomatic immunity granted by the government of Pakistan as per Vienna Convention. “If a blogger has objections on handing over of the diplomat to the embassy, he/she may approach the government of Pakistan to withdraw from Vienna Convention,” the blog posted by the Capital City police says.

In July 2010, a US embassy officer attached to the embassy’s Force Protection Department, hit and killed a young man driving a motorcycle on the 7th Avenue.

In February 2013, an administrative assistant at the US embassy hit two motorcyclists with his Land Cruiser near Kohsar Complex at Margalla Avenue. A man was killed and another was injured in the accident.

In November 2010, a member of the US Regional Affairs Office hit another embassy’s vehicle causing damage to both vehicles at Shahrah-i-Jamhuriat near Radio Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2018