The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an apology from Pakistan Peoples Party’s Waheeda Shah Bukhari for assaulting a polling staff member during Saturday’s by-election in Tando Mohammad Khan, cautioning her that she would have to face the music for her “shameful” act.
Bukhari was declared the winner in the initial vote-count of the provincial seat by-poll (PS 53) but the Election Commission held back the final results when television cameras caught her slapping one polling station worker and tongue-lashing another.
On Friday, a three-member bench hearing a suo motu notice on the ugly confrontation condemned Bukhari’s action, calling it more serious than last year’s killing of a youth, Sarfaraz Shah, by paramilitary troops.
Under the law, as interpreted by Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq under penal code sections 353 and 189, Bukhari could face a two-year prison term and a hefty fine.
Oddly enough, Bukhari appeared before the court without a lawyer. When inquired by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry about the absence of her counsel, she said: “You (chief justice) are my lawyer and you are my judge.” She quickly added that she was expecting justice from him.
“While we are equally respectful of you, the incident sent out a negative message that if an influential person takes the law into his/her hands, no one can dare take action,” the chief justice said.
“Your case will be dealt in accordance with law and we are also bound to follow the constitution,” Justice Chaudhry told Bukhari.
Both the Election Commission and the police were reprimanded for failing to take timely action.
“If such an incident can take place in the by-polls, what will happen in the general elections,” the chief justice asked.
While drawing parallels with the extrajudicial killing of Sarfaraz Shah, the chief justice observed that Inspector General of Police Sindh Mushtaq Shah should be sacked from his post over the episode.
The province’s top police officer, however, defended himself saying that there was no comparison between the killing of Sarfaraz Shah and this incident.
The chief justice responded, “This incident is even more serious than the extrajudicial killing, because it has brought shame to the country.”
“It was a slap on the face of the state, not on an individual,” Justice Khilji Arif Hussian said.
The IG, in response, said: “Hamesha ki tarah hamain kal be jootay paray, hain jee” (Like always, we are the ones who get slapped around).
However, the chief justice reminded him that such incidents take place because law enforcing institutions do not perform their duties.
The chief justice directed IG Sindh and EC Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed to take action according to the law and submit a report before the court on the next hearing on March 12.
“Shagufta Memon (the assaulted officer) is a school teacher and she could not fight with mighty people. It was the duty of ECP and the police to become witness in this case,” the chief justice maintained.
Justice (retd) Tariq Mahmood told The Express Tribune that it was possible that the school teacher [Memon] would not appear before the magistrate to record her statement due to political pressure; prompting the court to ask the EC to become a witness in the case.
Justice Mahmood was of the view that such incidents are common in elections, particularly in Karachi, and there was a need to ensure free media access at every polling station.
The court also found that the FIR lodged against Bukhari was not “proper”. “The Inspector General of Police Sindh failed to ensure registration of the case promptly,” the court observed in its written order. Later the IG Sindh informed the court that the two sections cited by the attorney general would be inserted into the FIR.
(Read: Democracy without decorum)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2012.