February Issue 2019

By | Editor's Note | Published 5 months ago

While announcing the final verdict on the appeal against the Supreme Court’s overturning of Aasia Bibi’s death sentence, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, took the mullah, who had filed the charges against her, to task. For lying under oath. For fabricating evidence. For portraying a negative image of Islam. It would have been highly appropriate had the CJ gone a step further: invoked Article 195 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which stipulates that those who resort to fabrication of evidence be awarded a life term or a term of seven years or upwards. That may serve as a possible deterrent to all those who dare to fabricate evidence – more so in blasphemy cases – to serve their own nefarious ends.

Just three days after the Aasia Bibi judgment, Justice Khosa set aside another verdict – this time of the Peshawar High Court that had acquitted an accused who was sentenced to 10 years by a sessions court, for attempting to murder a teenager in Swat valley in 2006. The SC upheld the decision of the sessions court judge, while observing that eight witnesses to the case had provided contradictory testimonies.

Increasingly, false testimonies stand in the way of dispensing justice as do weak prosecution, corrupt practices, paucity of judges and a judicial system that appears to be stacked heavily in favour of the powerful and the connected. Law student Khadija Siddiqui’s case is a classic example of how the edifice of justice works to defeat a complainant. Siddiqui’s should have been an open-and-shut case. She was stabbed 23 times in front of two key witnesses – her driver and her younger sister, when she went to collect the latter from school. And yet it took three years of running from pillar to post, facing intimidation from lawyers and provocative questions about her relationship with her assailant, to get justice. When the judgement was first delivered – seven years by a judicial magistrate – it was reduced to five years by the sessions court and later suspended altogether by the Lahore High Court. Was it because the assailant happened to be the son of a senior High Court lawyer? The former CJ took suo moto notice of the case, following a strong social media campaign, and the present CJ retained the judgment of the sessions court.

While the story may have finally ended somewhat happily for both Aasia, who has reportedly sought asylum abroad, and Khadija, who has returned to London to pursue her studies, there is a distraught father who continues to do the rounds of courts in Karachi seeking justice for his young son, Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model who was falsely accused of being a terrorist and shot dead in the prime of his life. Despite strong evidence against former top cop, Rao Anwar – who has served all his political masters diligently in all their crimes – as being one of the key accused in Mehsud’s murder, his bereaved father has been unable to nail Anwar. The story may not end very differently for the families of the four people, including two women, who were killed by officials of the Counter Terrorism Department in Sahiwal. In fact, they are allegedly receiving threats for pursuing the case. 

Nothing seems to have changed on the ground. 

Despite the constant demand for police and judicial reforms from assorted quarters, there seems to be no move from the legislators, past or present. The only reforms that seem to interest them are those that benefit them – such as how to legalise their ill-gotten gains. The rest is a mere blip on the radar.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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