THE other day, an anti-terrorism court sentenced 86 TLP workers to 55 years in prison, along with the imposition of a hefty fine and the seizure of their assets. Following disruptive protests that erupted across the country after the release in 2018 of Asiya Bibi — a Christian woman who had spent a decade behind bars on false blasphemy charges — a number of demonstrators affiliated with the party were taken into custody, including the brother and nephew of TLP chairman Khadim Hussain Rizvi. They have now been convicted under several counts. These include: obstructing a public servant from discharging his duties; disobeying legal orders; attempted murder; assaulting public servants; criminal trespassing; and damaging public property. Should those who were found guilty of these charges be punished? Yes, they should be, but surely the punishment must be in proportion to the crime. That is only fair. As it stands, the rulings of the anti-terrorism court are far too harsh — and, on another note, they may also create sympathy for an admittedly intolerant outfit. Moreover, it is unlikely that all 86 convicts, or even a majority of them, attempted to commit murder, the most serious of the crimes listed in the charge sheet. Glaringly, there were no charges against the party activists for making incendiary speeches, something many politicians — encouraged by violent protests — have indulged in throughout the years. It almost seems as if the protesters are being punished for something else.
Resultantly, the verdict brings into question the rationale behind the perpetuation of justice systems, notably in the form of anti-terrorism courts, which deny the accused bail, and usually extend the harshest of punishments. The previous chief justice rightly questioned the broad use of ‘terrorism’ to prosecute a wide range of crimes. In the past, there have been instances of cybercrime and theft being prosecuted under the anti-terrorism laws. Justice must remain impartial and not be swayed by popular demands of quick and overly severe punishment being administered to convicts.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020