KARACHI: Growing incidents of vigilante justice in the metropolis seem to indicate a lack of people’s trust in the criminal justice system as they prefer to take law into their hands and punish anyone they believe to be culprit, instead of handing him over to law enforcement agencies.

In the past few months, dozens of cases have been reported where mobs killed suspects on the spot or injured them to the point where they died later in hospitals.

There’s also an unusual incident that took place in the vicinity of Samnabad police near Edhi morgue, Sohrab Goth, where the victims of a street crime traced the location of alleged muggers, went there with licensed weapons and killed one after an exchange of fire in what police claimed by exercising their right to self-defence.

However, even if not self-defence, the citizens are still reluctant to let police ‘intrude’ if they get hands on the suspects as they find it ‘useless’ since, according to their experience, police let alleged robbers free.

Karachi police chief Odho blames ‘lacunas’ in judicial system for weak prosecution

A man, who was part of a mob that seriously hurt two suspected robbers in Buffer Zone, said: “We have been robbed at one place twice. We once got hands on the robbers and we called police helpline 15 straight away and handed them to the police. But later, we saw those guys again on the street some days later. Which is why, the next time we caught muggers, we knew that police were not an option. So we tied them and beat them to the point where they just can’t think of getting back into this dirty business.”

The mobs were right in many instances, but the Oct 26 Machhar Colony incident, in which two innocent telecom workers were beaten to death after some people spread a rumour that they were child kidnappers, came as a wake-up call for authorities that there’s a dire need to rein in the vigilante culture.

The gruesome footage of the Machhar Colony incident that went viral on social media triggered a strong public reaction especially when it transpired that the victims were innocent. As a result, the police started apprehending those found behind the lynching.

‘Slow judicial process’

Responding to a Dawn query about the growing incidents of mob lynching, Karachi police chief Javed Odho had the social structure and slow judicial process to blame for it.

“Before coming to the police, you need to analyse the real problem. I’m not going to shun the fact that people have trust issues with us, but they also don’t trust the judicial system either. Everyone wants a scapegoat, so they use the police department as one,” he told Dawn.

“Police do follow the procedure. We arrest suspects, register cases against them and produce them in court. But courts operate in an old school manner. They don’t accept police’s statements. How long are we going to base things on ocular evidence? We need modern equipment as well,” he said.

Another police officer, SSP-South Asad Raza, told Dawn that the mob lynching cases were being registered under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and those identified were being apprehended.

“The problem is that premeditated murder requires motive and a mob’s motive cannot be established since they react to someone they saw snatching. The prosecution fails to establish the case, hence all these people get themselves acquitted after some time,” he said, adding that the Section 302 requires some amendments so the people who take law into their own hands can be dealt with.

He said it was unlawful to kill anyone even if people are sure about their involvement in criminal activity. “Not even police can encounter anyone except in self-defence,” he added.

The city police chief also highlighted a problem regarding complainants. He said that relatives of deceased suspects would not come forward in almost all the cases. “They refrain from being associated with such a suspect, which is why most of such cases are dismissed.”

He said people are already frustrated with the economic meltdown, then the slow judicial system hurts their trust in the system. This is why people turn to extremism and our society has now become a mob generally, he added.

Advocate S.M. Ali Jafri maintained that no one got the right to take law into his own hands on the pretext of lacking trust in the justice system. He said: “But it’s the responsibility of the state to restore people’s trust in the judicial system.”

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022

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