The broken chain of evidence!

After three years, seven months and eight days, the Anti-Terrorism Court has yet again postponed the verdict of the alleged architect of the Lal Masjid massacre which left almost a thousand people displaced, 248 injured and 108 killed. The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) has only now, on 20th April 2011 , indicted former chief cleric of Lal Mosque Maulana Abdul Aziz and 20 others for killing a Rangers soldier on July 7th, 2007, while the charges on these suspects have been struck down from twenty to one during this time.

This is not just one case which has gone unattended. According to Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial minister for information, almost 98% of the alleged terrorists are acquitted on the basis of insufficient evidence or lack of witnesses.
The amount of such cases is appallingly increasing and the presence of militants in the society is posing a major threat for the civilians. A staggering 1,591 people lost their lives in these attacks while 10,161 militants were arrested in 2010. But the puzzling question is that why many of the extremists behind this butchery have never been punished or even trialed.

A major reason for this trend could be attributed to the inefficacy of the police. “Most of these cases lack eyewitnesses and are based on circumstantial evidence. A single missing link in the chain of evidence, it shatters the prosecution case,” said Shahnawaz Khan, expert in terrorism-related cases. A review of the nastiest terrorist attacks in the history of Pakistan also points towards the absence of appropriate evidence because of the lack of any proper procedure for the police.

On December 27th 2007, the whole country quivered as Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a 15 year old boy. But even a case of this significance has not been solved as yet, and according to the United Nations report, Rawalpindi District Police has played an important role in its delay. The absence of; on the spot investigation, evidence collection and autopsy report and hosing down of the crime scene were the major contributions by police to the failure of this case in court.
Similarly, the four core suspects of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing on September 20th 2008 were acquitted in July 2010, because out of the 128 witnesses, 84 didn’t show up.
Many of police officers don’t even record information of the location from where the suspect was arrested. For example, the suspects of the Ashura procession blast on Dec 28th 2009 were released in July 2010 because of the contradiction in the statements of the Interpol officers about the location from where these suspects were arrested. This is not a single occasion rather approximately, 23 alleged terrorists, in the past six months, have been freed merely because police didn’t record the exact location from where these people were arrested.

The irresponsibility reaches its pinnacle when the police don’t even collect ‘any authentic proof’ against the suspect. As on 10th April 2011, an Afghan suspected of attacking a checkpost and stealing arms was freed on bail. Though the person was in custody for one month but the investigative officers didn’t present a single evidence for the allegation against him.
We need to rectify this negligent attitude by the police to ensure that the terrorists don’t openly challenge the autonomy of civilians in Pakistan. To eradicate this unprofessionalism, the authorities will have to take an active part and form an official ‘protocol’.

A protocol would describe as to how to proceed in terms of collecting evidence, sending samples for forensic reports and collection of supporting data. A separate provision for the witness’s protection and code of conduct for the police must be constituted in it, under the general curriculum of laws. Another plausible provision could be to reduce the time for custody so the verdict could be granted as soon as possible. And in case of failure to abide by the rules of the protocol, either heavy fine or suspension should be the consequence.
This proper code of conduct can strengthen and organize the local police procedures to a great extent. A code would facilitate the authorities in objectively reviewing the performance of the police officers.

In Pakistan, many innocent people lose their lives in acts of terrorism every day. We won’t be able to sustain the increasing burden of terrorism with a corrupt and dissipated legal system. If we keep on acquitting these extremists due to our negligence, then one day they will rip off the already fragile society into pieces!

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