Terror suspects in 282, or 63%, of 447 high-profile terrorism cases that had been tried, were acquitted by anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) in Punjab in 2011, official statistics obtained by The Express Tribune reveal. There are a total of 925 high-profile terrorism cases.
Most of the accused were acquitted by ATCs due to a lack of evidence. They include ring leaders of outlawed terrorist organisations Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehreek-e-Taliban and Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen. Some of the suspects were also acquitted due to resiling by witnesses.
The accused in 12 cases were acquitted due to compromise in compoundable cases; suspects in 183 cases were acquitted owing to resiling by witnesses or out-of-court compromise; and the accused of 87 cases were acquitted on merit, a brief summary of the Punjab public prosecution department reveal.
Of the 447 decided cases, the accused in 165 cases were convicted, while out of the total 925 cases, 142 cases were consigned or transferred to ordinary courts. Since December 31, 2011, as many as 336 cases have been pending before ATCs in Punjab.
Of the total 925 cases, 346 had been pending since 2010, while 579 cases were added in 2011.
Additional Inspector General of Police (Investigation Branch) Punjab Muhammad Aslam Tareen said that he identified the withdrawal of testimonies by witnesses – who are often threatened or intimidated by terrorist groups – as the primary cause for the low conviction rate. He suggested that the statements of witnesses recorded by the police should be made equivalent to confessional statement of the accused recorded before courts. However, he added, in some cases, the courts do not consider the witness statements as admissible evidence.
Besides resiling of witnesses, other factors that cause a lack of evidence are shortage of modern and scientific investigation, shortage of well trained /well equipped investigation staff, lack of proper coordination between prosecution and investigation staff, the additional IG said.
Chief Prosecutor of the public prosecution department Chaudhry Muhammad Jahangir, while talking to The Express Tribune, said that the prosecution department identified different loopholes in the prosecution of terrorism cases, which have led to so many acquittals. These include a lack of witness protection laws, defective investigations, lack of forensic and other technology that would aid the investigation process.
He added that the prosecution department, after meeting with the IG Punjab, has prepared a standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding the collection of evidence from the crime scene and preparing an FIR draft.
The department has also initiated a police training programme regarding terrorism cases, while the Crime Scene Management Unit (CSMU) is working on gathering forensic and technical experts. The purpose is to make the evidence admissible before the courts to ensure the conviction of the accused, the chief prosecutor stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2012.