Judgment reserved: After six years, anti-slavery activist inches close to a verdict

Published: April 24, 2016
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Sindh High Court building. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Sindh High Court building. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: After six years, the Sindh High Court (SHC) reserved its verdict on the application of an anti-slavery activist, Mano Bheel, against the bail of a landlord who kidnapped his family nearly 18 years ago.

A member of the Hindu religious minority’s lower cast, Bheel, had challenged the bail of Abdul Rehman Mari, who was accused of forcibly using many famers for bonded labour. “The court will announce its decision later,” Salahuddin Panhwar, the lawyer representing the 70-year-old activist, told The Express Tribune. His application was filed with the high court’s principal seat at Karachi on May 31, 2010.

According to Bheel, local landlord Abdul Rehman Mari abducted 11 of his family members 18 years ago. They include his 70-year-old father, Khero, 60-year-old mother, Akho, 40-year-old wife, Motan, 25-year-old brother, Talal, two daughters, 13-year-old Momal and one-year-old Dhanee, his two sons, 10-year-old Chaman and eight-year-old Kanjee, and even his relative, Kirto.

All of them were taken away for a mere Rs190,000 that they took as loan from the landlord years ago, he said. Bheel’s ordeal made headlines across the world when the Supreme Court took notice of the case. The then chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had taken suo motu notice on the complaint of a Swedish human rights activist, Torborg Isakssan.

Justice Chaudhry’s efforts to rescue the victims were interrupted when he was sacked on November 3, 2007. By the time he was restored two years later, the landlord had already been granted bail.

According to Bheel, the police filed a case on the orders of the apex court and a charge-sheet was filed with district and sessions judge Jhuddo against nine suspects, including Abdul Rehman Marri, Chaudhry Bashir, Hashim and Natho. During the judicial crisis of 2007 when Justice Chaudhry and other judges were sacked, the trial court disposed of Bheel’s kidnapping case and released all the suspects.

Bheel claimed the decision was given in his absence as he had never received any court summon. He even staged a hunger strike, lasting 1,287 days, outside Hyderabad Press Club to protest his family’s kidnapping.

Since the restoration of the judiciary, the anti-slavery activist resumed his legal battle. He filed a criminal miscellaneous application with the SHC.

“Fifteen judges heard the application [of Bheel] on which 47 hearings were conducted since its institution,” a court official told The Express Tribune, referring to the case records.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2016.

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