Powers of arrest

Published October 6, 2021

THE Supreme Court has had to state the obvious to a National Accountability Bureau that refuses to accord respect to constitutional protections. In a case pertaining to the denial of bail to an individual arrested by NAB, a three-judge bench recently held that the arrest and detention of a person without any incriminating evidence is a violation of that individual’s inherent right to dignity. The verdict authored by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah underscores a fundamental principle of criminal justice, the presumption of innocence. If a court is not satisfied as to the quality of the evidence on the basis of which an individual has been deprived of his liberty, then it must grant him bail. Further, the verdict defines grounds for arrest as being “not limited to mere allegations but means allegations supported by sufficient material/evidence connecting the person with the offence justifying his arrest and detention”.

The judgement is a clear indictment of NAB’s modus operandi witnessed on numerous occasions since the government unleashed it on the opposition in an ‘accountability’ drive so one-sided as to have become almost farcical. It is not as though the superior judiciary has not admonished the anti-graft watchdog time and again for its arbitrary detention of ‘suspects’ even before it begins looking for evidence against them. The courts have also passed verdicts that illustrate their displeasure over NAB’s culture of arrest first and ask questions later. In March 2020, the Islamabad High Court in a landmark ruling termed the NAB chairman’s arbitrary power to order arrests as contrary to fundamental rights. In July last year, Justice Maqbool Baqar in a strongly worded judgement in the Paragon City case involving PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother described NAB’s conduct as “a classic example of trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty….” There are scores of instances where the NAB chief has exercised his sweeping powers of arrest in a manner that smacks of persecution and a political agenda. The abuse of power manifests itself in several ways: firstly, by arresting an individual on mere suspicion; secondly, by keeping him in custody even when NAB investigators are unable to find prosecutable evidence to support the allegations; thirdly, by contesting the individual’s application for bail despite having no logical reason for keeping him behind bars. Now that a definitive judgement has come from the apex court, will NAB continue in its reckless and lawless ways?

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2021

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