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Avoiding autopsy may benefit accused in the end: police officials

Updated November 09, 2018


Maulana Samiul Haq's family contended that “Sharia does not allow the postmortem of a Muslim’s body". — File/AFP
Maulana Samiul Haq's family contended that “Sharia does not allow the postmortem of a Muslim’s body". — File/AFP

LAHORE: With mystery shrouding the identity of assassins of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Sami) chief Maulana Samiul Haq, the absence of postmortem of his body may weaken the case once the culprits are caught and tried.

Police officers associated with the investigation process say postmortem is a mandatory requirement to know the cause of death and pursue the case in the court of law.

A sessions judge of Rawalpindi allowed the police to hand over the body of Maulana Samiul Haq to his family which contended that “Sharia does not allow the postmortem of a Muslim’s body”.

Some senior police officers Dawn talked to say the autopsy is according to the law of the land to know the cause of death in unnatural death (particularly murder) cases but its absence may weaken the case to give benefit of doubt to the killer(s) in later stages.

It was the second high profile case in Rawalpindi after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto wherein the postmortem was avoided.

The issue (postmortem) surfaced in the Benazir case and led to criminal proceedings against the then City Police Officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi Saud Aziz along with another of his colleague “on the charges of destroying evidence”. Both police officers were later arrested and sent to jail after the court awarded them punishment on the same charges. “Convictions are almost impossible without postmortem report in which experts exactly tell the cause of unnatural death,” says a senior officer.

“The postmortem report is the best evidence of an unnatural death that is admissible in evidence before the court as an expert opinion,” says another senior police officer, adding every criminal case has two major parts — the presentation of evidence and production of witnesses.

“When the expert is summoned by the court as a witness, the submission of his findings is an expert opinion and when he corroborates these findings with the autopsy report, this becomes the most reliable evidence in the eye of law,” he said.

Another police officer differs and says law permits the exemption of postmortem if the aggrieved/complainant party gets its permission through the concerned magistrate in writing.

“If the family does not want to conduct postmortem, it means they are not willing to further pursue the matter. Consequently, there is no need to investigate the case.”

Another police officer was of the opinion that the postmortem was essential for proper prosecution of the case. It’s the sole responsibility of the local police to get it done.

“Yes, in the absence of postmortem, the case of prosecution weakens and defence exploits it to its advantage,” he said, adding that it must have been carried out if conviction had to be secured.

He said the culprit(s) can be punished to some extent in the absence of the postmortem report, but capital punishment was not possible.

“It may face identical legal complications as we experienced in the Benazir case since the postmortem determines the cause of death and the nature of weapon used. If accused are identified and arrested at a later stage, the absence of postmortem benefits them,” he said.

“The postmortem certainly helps in establishing the cause of death but if it is clear that what has caused the death, then there is no need to go for postmortem,” says another senior police officer.

In such a situation, the police take notes of the body and mentions the type of injuries visible with naked eye and which may have caused death, he said.

Secondly, he says when a doctor issues a death certificate, he has to tell cause of death as seen by him if no postmortem is done. But it is advised by forensic experts world-over to ensure postmortem.

“In the case of Maulana Samiul Haq, the cause of death is very clear and police must have taken pictures of wounds which can be sufficient for conviction; but at the appellant level the court can give benefit of doubt to the accused if his lawyers are good,” says another top cop.“No justification at all. It is not the choice of family. It’s a sign of weakness of the state,” says another senior officer having vast investigation experience.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018