Witnesses remain insecure as protection law not yet implemented

Published November 16, 2020
Witnesses in high-profile cases are scared to move freely in courts to testify against accused as the Sindh government is yet to fully implement a law specifically enacted to provide protection to witnesses. — AP/File
Witnesses in high-profile cases are scared to move freely in courts to testify against accused as the Sindh government is yet to fully implement a law specifically enacted to provide protection to witnesses. — AP/File

KARACHI: Witnesses in high-profile cases are scared to move freely in courts to testify against accused as the Sindh government is yet to fully implement a law specifically enacted to provide protection to witnesses, it has emerged.

Judicial and prosecution sources told the Dawn that witnesses were feeling insecure to record their statements against accused in most criminal cases, particularly those being tried in antiterrorism courts.

The provincial assembly had passed the Sindh Witness Protection Act in September last year for providing government security to witnesses in criminal cases, including life protection, reasonable accommodation, financial assistance and compensation to legal heirs if the protected person is killed or dies during the process.

However, the witnesses are still without protection as the provincial authorities have yet to enforce the law in letter and spirit.

Rangers offer complete protection to their witnesses only in cases they prosecute

The trial in the Naqeeb Ullah murder case in a staged encounter is an example that how prosecution witnesses are feeling themselves insecure.

“There are three witnesses who have retracted from their earlier statements recorded before police when they were summoned to record their testimonies in court,” said Advocate Salahuddin Panhwar, who is representing Naqeeb’s family. “We have requested the judge on different occasions to direct police high-ups to provide protection to the witnesses of the prosecution in the preset case, but to no avail.”

He said the witnesses were still afraid of freely appearing before the court to testify against ‘very influential” accused.

Senior lawyer Shaukat Hayat blamed the prosecution for failing to ensure presence of witnesses due to lack of protection to their lives and properties.

“The witnesses are not regularly turning up before the courts to record their statements due to lack of protection,” he told Dawn.

The judicial and prosecution sources told Dawn that there were a few examples where complete protection had been given to witnesses primarily only in those cases in which Rangers were performing the role of the prosecution.

The sources also cited the example of the Baldia factory fire case, in which the Rangers had ensure protection to the factory’s Dubai-based owners and prosecution witnesses living in the Karachi.

“Every case should be tried on the footing of the Baldia factory fire case, in which the prosecution has ensured presence of the witnesses and the judge had conducted swift trial and delivered the judgement,” opined Mr Hayat.

However, many lawyers complained that in several cases they requested the judges to order protection for witnesses, but police high-ups willfully ignored the courts’ orders.

The sources said witnesses lacked confidence to come forward to testify against criminals in courts. They said that there was a deepening sense of insecurity among the witnesses, who were increasingly avoiding testifying against hardened criminals in high-profile terrorism cases.

In January, the judge of an ATC had observed: “Witnesses are not being provided protection and security not to talk of promotion and projection of the witnesses despite enactment of Witnesses Protection and Benefit Act 2017 in which Section 4 about Witness Protection Programme also provides for new identity, accommodation, reasonable financial assistance of witnesses compensation in case of harm to witnesses.”.

The court had directed the home secretary and Sindh police chief to depute a focal person for filing their comments/report in terms of the implementation of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, 2017 in the province in letter and spirit with recommendation, if any, for making the law more effective.

When Dawn contacted Sindh Prosecutor General Dr Faiz Shah for his comment, he said as such there was no mechanism. The work had begun on the programme, but there were issues like lack of resources, etc, he said.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2020

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