Trying terrorists: New law proposed to counter acquittals for lack of evidence

Witness protection, proximity of jails and court also under consideration.

Jamshed Baghwan August 22, 2011

PESHAWAR: Under a new law proposed to try terrorists apprehended by security forces and intelligence agencies, two western models will be used, The Express Tribune has learnt.

The new law, said a high-ranking security official, will ensure swift justice in terrorism cases, which are currently tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. A number of cases are disposed of due to lack of evidence, such as that of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi member Malik Ishaq who was released last month.

The new ways include the Sicilian Model and the American Witness Protection Act, which will be applied to Pakistan’s legal system for trying militants who pose a threat to people who testify in terrorism cases or are part of the legal process.

The Sicilian model, which was used to try members of the Italian mafia, will be applied because of lack of witnesses. “According to this model, name of the judge hearing the case will be kept confidential and will be referred to only in numbers. The person standing trial will not be allowed to see the person heading the prosecution, the prosecutor or the witness,” the  official explained.

He said that new jails and courts will also be established for people who are considered a ‘security threat’. “There is a high possibility that the jail and court will be in the same compound,” he said.

Another problem faced in trying dangerous militants is concealing the identity of witnesses.

“The witness protection plan of the American Civil War will be utilised for safety of witnesses. We have also proposed amendments in the witness law,” said the official.

The procedural process is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will enable law enforcement agencies to try high-profile militants such as Muslim Khan, Maulvi Omar, Commander Mahmud and others.

An estimated 3,000 militants are under custody, which is more than the capacity that the jails are designed for. It has also overburdened security arrangements.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd,  2011.