In an interesting chain of events, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Waseem Akhtar won Karachi’s mayoral election while in jail and today, took oath to formally take charge of the post. He plans to run the country’s largest city from a small cell in the central jail.
For those confused over how the law can allow a person accused of heinous crimes to become a mayor, it is important to remember Akhtar is an ‘accused’ and not a ‘convict’. This means if the charges against him – which include facilitating criminals and terrorists – don’t hold water, he can be out tomorrow discharging his mayoral duties from his office rather than the jail where he is currently held.
Akhtar was arrested by Rangers in July on sedition and terrorism charges and has several cases and FIRs filed against him. Under normal circumstances, Code of Criminal Procedure states an accused should be brought to a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest for approval or denial of request for extending detention. This extension could last for maximum 14 days. However, Rangers are working in Karachi with special powers which allow them to detain an accused for 90 days.
So, although Akhtar is in jail, he is just an accused; he has the right to a fair trial and due process as enshrined in Article 10 of the Constitution and is innocent until proven guilty. He can be legally barred from working as a mayor only when charges against him are proven to be true in a court of law. Until then, he is as good as a free man.
Akhtar will be free to go when the 90-day period will end, and if no new request for custody is made before a court.
The MQM leader will be the first mayor in Pakistan to manage a city from jail; however, he is not the first in the world to have won a mayoral election or to run a city from jail. Mayor for Iligan city in Philippines Celso Regencia, accused of masterminding an attack on a former ally, worked as the city’s chief executive from jail. Hamas member Wajia Qawais from Qalqilya city of West Bank also won all seats in the 2005 local election while in jail.
The deployment of Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, in Karachi is requisitioned under the following laws:
Article 147 of the Constitution which allows provincial government to entrust any function to the federal government provided the assigning of responsibility is ratified by the provincial assembly within 60 days.
Clause 1 of Sub-section 3 of Section 4 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 which allows federal government to deploy civil armed forces.
Amended Section 11-EEEE of Anti-Terrorism Act which allows civil armed forces to detain for maximum 90 days a person accused of committing a crime or for involvement in one, such as target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion.