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SC may suggest law to rein in agencies

April 28, 2007

ISLAMABAD, April 27: The Supreme Court on Friday hinted at giving a ruling in the missing persons’ case which would not only punish the guilty but also guide parliament to frame a law to rein in intelligence agencies.

The apex court indicated that whosoever was found responsible for disappearances would have to answer for each day of confinement of the missing persons.

All actions should have legal sanctity behind it, observed Justice Javed Iqbal. He was heading a two-member bench which took up petitions filed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and former PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar along with complaints of Ms Amina Masood Janjua, Saqlain Mehdi, Aisha, Abdul Ghaffar, Amtul Hafiz, Fatima, Mohammad Ikram Alvi, Arif Abbasi and Syed Babar.

The application of Ms Janjua pertains to the remaining 10 missing persons, including her husband, from a list of 43 people whose unexplained disappearance for the last two years is believed to have been caused by their suspected links to Al Qaeda or other ‘jihadi’ organisations. The HRCP petition deals with 136 persons who disappeared mainly from Balochistan.

Apart from providing guidelines to parliament, the establishment of a permanent commission to deal with such cases was another option which cropped up during the Friday’s hearing.

The government informed the court that 56 individuals on the HRCP list of 136 had been traced. Of them, 45 had been freed, three were under trial, five under custody, one detained under the Security of Pakistan Act, one was an army deserter and one had been convicted, National Crisis Management Cell director-general Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

Two journalists -- Sohail Kalandar and Niaz Ali -- whose names were on the HRCP list had actually been abducted by criminals for ransom and released on February 21, he said.

Likewise, Qari Mohammad Aslam Zahid, who is undergoing a life imprisonment in the Gujranwala jail awarded by the Field General Court Martial, was also included in the missing persons’ list.

Brig Cheema sought a direction for the HRCP to coordinate and provide complete addresses of the missing persons because the information provided by the commission was scanty and it was difficult for them to go on a wild goose chase.

One Haji Jan Mohammad has been traced and found to be a free person from the remaining 10 persons’ list of Ms Janjua. Thus nine and 80 individuals from two separate lists were yet to be identified, Brig Cheema said in a statement submitted before the court. He sought at least eight more weeks to trace the remaining persons, saying it was the constitutional obligation of the government to trace the whereabouts of its citizens.

The court directed Deputy Attorney General Chaudhry Afrasiab Khan to release nine-year-old Asad Usman by Monday. HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir informed the court that the boy had been picked up by the Balochistan Frontier Constabulary and federal Minister Zobaida Jalal was on record as having said that he would be released after wanted brother surrendered.

The court also directed the interior ministry to submit concise statements about Atiqur Rehman, a scientist in the KRL who had been picked up on the day of his wedding; Faisal Faraz, a mechanical engineer, Imran Munir, Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Naeem Noor Khan, when the court would assemble again on next Friday.

Defence Secretary Kamran Rasool informed the court that intelligence agencies had denied any role in the disappearances. The defence ministry, he said, had only administrative control over operational formations of the Armed Forces.Brig Cheema also explained that the intelligence agencies picked up only those people who were involved in activities prejudicial to the security of Pakistan.

“No person should be picked up by the intelligence agencies in the presence of law-enforcement agencies like the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), police, etc,” Justice Javed Iqbal observed and regretted that every other day crowds of people with pictures of their near and dear ones assembled outside the Supreme Court to demand their release because their grievances were not being redressed.

Justice Javed Iqbal also regretted that parliaments and successive governments focussed their energy only on strengthening individuals and their authority.

Appearing on behalf of the People’s Democracy Institute of Shaheed Bhutto Foundation, Farhatullah Babar requested the court to ask for Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali’s report on streamlining intelligence agencies and why it was not being implemented.

He said the report had not seen the light of the day but could provide a sound basis for bringing the agencies under the ambit of law.

Pointing to defence secretary’s remarks that the operations of intelligence agencies did not fall under his ministry’s jurisdiction, he said the real authority controlling the agencies’ actions in lifting citizens, holding them in custody, interrogating and subsequently discharging them had neither been disclosed nor made to appear before the court.

Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, representing the HRCP, requested the court to allow the commission to meet people in detention.