‘An affront to human rights’: Lawyers, journalists weigh in on Naqeebullah murder case verdict

It isn't that the system is broken, it's never been made workable. We are driving a donkey cart in the Formula 1 Grand Prix and expecting to win, says lawyer Basil Nabi Malik.
Published January 23, 2023

Five years after the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi acquitted on Monday all 18 accused, including former SSP Malir Rao Anwar, with the judge observing that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

Mehsud was killed in a police encounter at an abandoned farmhouse in the outskirts of Karachi, along with three other victims on January 13, 2018. An inquiry team found that he was killed in a ‘fake encounter’ staged by the police.

The murder of the 27-year-old aspiring model from South Waziristan had sparked anger over social media, as well as country-wide protests, to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Five years on, the court has declared that former SSP Anwar and all his 17 subordinate officers are not guilty of Mehsud’s murder. Here’s what legal experts and journalists had to say about the verdict:

No one killed Naqeebullah?

Journalist Munizae Jahangir tweeted the million-dollar question when she asked: “So no one killed Naqeebullah?”

She added that “obviously, evidence was removed and Rao Anwar even allowed to disappear then to reappear in SC from back door with full security.

“What a joke they have made of the criminal justice system,” she surmised.

Darkness meets darkness, again

“On some days, there’s just nothing to say,” Barrister Asad Rahim Khan told Dawn.com, adding that “injustice has been institutionalised in this country”.

“The key to this case was a swift trial and determination,” he said. Instead, brutal policemen colluded with Sindh’s ruling elites and the darkest parts of the state to ensure — over the course of five years — that the process was corrupted, managed, and whittled away to nothing, he added.

The least the system could have done was to avenge Naqeeb’s death, even if not during the course of his father’s life. Instead, it has returned yet another acquittal — whatever the evidence, whatever Rao Anwar’s appalling record of extrajudicial murder, whatever the fact of an entire movement erupting around the killing of an innocent man, said Khan.

With the shining exception of Jibran Nasir and his colleagues fighting it out, this is yet another episode of darkness meeting the darkness.

But this verdict will be appealed, because it must, he stressed.

The system was never workable

Was this outcome unexpected? Frankly, no, said lawyer Basil Nabi Malik.

The problem with our justice system and it’s ability to prosecute an accused is well known. Whether it be in relation to properly investigating matters, ensuring transparency, preserving evidence or being sensitised to a victim’s ordeal, our system lacks the nuts and bolts to adequately address any of these issues, he explained.

“It isn’t that the system is broken, it’s never been made workable. We are driving a donkey cart in the Formula 1 Grand Prix and expecting to win,” said Malik.

Affront to human rights

Human rights campaigner Rimmel Mohydin tweeted that the acquittal was “an affront to human rights, the law and the family members of his countless victims.”

She added that it was “fitting it happened on a day where the country is literally plunged in darkness,” referring to the power outage across the country.

The decay in our system

Zoha Waseem, who researches politics and sociology of policing and security in Pakistan, said that the verdict reveals multiple layers of decay in our criminal justice system.

From prosecution witnesses withdrawing their testimonies, to the ATC delaying the hearings even though these courts are set up to expedite such cases, to even police officers being divided in their opinions on Anwar and fearing what standing against Anwar and his patrons might mean for their own professional well-being, the case reveals how complex it is to investigate and prosecute a high-profile extrajudicial killing in this country, no matter how much you invest in police and prosecution reforms, she said.

“For the police, I assume, Anwar’s acquittal will evoke mixed reactions and feelings,” said Waseem, adding that, “some officers, who are against encounters, will criticise the court and the system for this verdict; others may be on the receiving end of Anwar’s wrath should he turn to the media to go after select officers, and yet others will feel vindicated and reassured that they too will be protected for their use of extrajudicial violence going forward.”

Extrajudicial police violence never ceased in Pakistan in the aftermath of Mehsud’s killing, though there may have been a reduction in the frequency of encounter killings, said Waseem.

“This verdict may, however, lead to an increase in the use of extrajudicial violence, especially if political parties turn again to the police for political victimisation and intimidation ahead of the polls and upcoming general elections,” she feared. “The environment remains conducive for state patronage of loyal cops.”