KARACHI: Fifty-three antiterrorism courts (ATCs) in Sindh, set up for conducting speedy trial, remain unable to decide cases within the stipulated time as mentioned in the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), as over 3,200 cases remain pending trial, it emerged on Sunday.
The ATCs were established under the ATA, 1997 for speedy trial of cases pertaining to terrorism, sectarian and targeted killing, extortion and kidnapping for ransom.
An ATC is legally bound to decide a case within seven days after indictment.
According to Section 19 (7) of the ATA, the court shall, on taking cognizance of a case, proceed with the trial on a day-to-day basis and shall decide it within seven days, failing which an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned for appropriate directions for an expeditious disposal of the case.
It is mentioned in Section 13 (2) of the ATA that one case at a time shall be assigned to a court. However, if for some reason a given case cannot be proceeded with, more than one case may be assigned to it to save time.
According to figures compiled by prosecution and judicial sources, by the end of November there are around 3,210 cases pending trial before the 53 ATCs functioning in the province.
Of the 33 permanent ATCs, 20 are in Karachi, three in Hyderabad, two in Sukkur and one each in Mirpurkhas, Shaheed Benazirabad, Naushero Feroze, Shikarpur, Kashmore / Kandhkot, Larkana, Khairpur and Ghotki.
Around 15pc conviction rate in 2018
The statistics further showed that the ATCs disposed of around 3,160 cases in 11 months of 2018 while nearly 1,690 new cases were filed during the same period.
The ATCs convicted and handed down sentences to the accused in around 467 cases. The conviction rate stood at around 15percent.
Among them, a high-profile case pertained to the murder of senior Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s leader Zohra Shahid in which two accused belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London were sentenced to death while as many MQM-L men were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
A former district and sessions judge, Sikandar Lashari, along with another accused Irfan Khan aka Fahim was sentenced to death over the murder of 19-year-old Aqib Shahani, son of his fellow district judge in Feb 2014.
Around 85pc acquittal rate
Similarly, the ATCs acquitted accused persons in around 2,690 cases as the prosecution failed to prove its allegations against them. The conviction rate remained around 85 percent.
Karachi’s ATC-XI, Sukkur’s ATC-II, ATC/ADJ 1st Hyderabad, ATC/ADJ 1st Mirpurkhas, ATC/ADJ 1st Shaheed Benazirabad, ATC/ADJ 1st Naushero Feroze, ATC/ADJ 1st Shikarpur and ATC/ADJ 1st Khairpur showed a zero conviction rate.
Two cases pertaining to the murder of three policemen in which MQM’s Obaid alias K2 was acquitted after prosecuting agencies could not prove their case.
In March 2013, the Supreme Court had directed the provincial government to increase the number of the permanent ATCs while the Sindh High Court was asked to delegated powers under the ATA were to the district and sessions judges to ensure ‘swift’ trials of the suspects in cases pertaining to terrorism, targeted killings, ransom, etc.
The number of the permanent ATCs was increased to 33 while 20 district and sessions courts in different districts were given the powers under the ATA. However, five ATCs at Karachi were lying vacant for quite some time due to want of judges, who were finally appointed in July and onwards.
Some cases pending trial for over 15 years
However, the purpose to establish the ATCs seems to remain unserved as decade-old cases have yet to be decided. There are 3,213 cases pending trial before the ATCs.
More than 10 cases have been pending trial at different ATCs for around a decade.
Several cases were pending trial against the former Peoples Aman Committee chairman Uzair Jan Baloch since he was in the custody of the army and reportedly facing trial for sedition before the military court.
Qasim Toori, an alleged member of proscribed Jundullah, had been charged with masterminding an attack on a convoy of the then Karachi corps commander in 2004 in Clifton.
He along with his accomplice is also facing trial for allegedly engaging in a massive shoot-out with the police and other law enforcement agencies in which two policemen were killed in Shah Latif Town in January 2008.
The trial of Attaullah and other suspects of the proscribed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi for the murder of Ehteshamuddin Haider, the elder brother of former Sindh governor and interior minister retired Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider, has been pending since 2001.
Around five cases pertaining to sectarian killings and illicit weapons against Mohammad Ajmal, better known as Akram Lahori, the alleged chief of the LJ, and his aides have been pending before ATCs since 2002.
Also, the trial of the 2006 Nishtar Park bombing case and two murder and explosive substance cases of 2004 registered against Jundullah activist Atta-ur-Rehman and others are also pending for over 12 and 14 years, respectively.
The trial into the cases pertaining to murder of the South Waziristan model Naseebullah Mehsud, better known as Naqeebullah Mehsud, and three others in an alleged ‘staged’ shoot-out in Jan 2018 is also pending trial for almost one year.
In May, the interior ministry had approved transfer of 90 terrorism cases, including the Nishtar Park and Abbas Town blast bomb blasts cases, for trial by military courts established under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952.
More than 50 people, including several religious leaders, were killed and over 100 others wounded in the massive bombing that ripped through a 12th Rabiul Awwal congregation at Nishtar Park in April 2006.
Sultan Mahmood alias Saifullah, Mufti Zakir Hussain Siddiqui, Mohammad Amin alias Khalid Shaheen, and Rehmatullah, said to be associated with the banned LJ, were held for their alleged involvement in the act of terrorism. Sultan has already been convicted in the Allama Hassan Turabi murder case.
Although the accused were arrested in 2007, the case, one of the major acts of terrorism in which the Sunni Tehreek lost its top leadership, was still fixed for evidence of prosecution witnesses.
Official documents stated that three suspects, Amanullah alias Mufti Ilyas, M. Khalid Abrar alias M. Yousuf and Qari Abid Iqbal were still at large.
The second high-profile case pertains to twin blasts targeting the Shia-dominated Abbas Town neighbourhood in Karachi in which around 50 people were killed and 150 were injured in March 2013.
Six suspects, including Khairuddin alias Mansoor, M. Ishaq, Inamullah alias Mola, Alam Sher alias Patay, Irfan and M. Shafiq alias Bashir — all said to be associated with LJ — have been arrested.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2019