Faced with a resilient Taliban insurgency, deadly sectarian violence and rampant crimes, the government is considering a slew of administrative and legal measures to restore peace in the country. On the legal side, the government plans to amend the anti-terrorism laws to allow security forces to shoot terrorism suspects.
According to the documents available with Express News, the government plans amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, including in Section 5 which authorises the security forces to ‘use force’ to prevent a terrorist act. Presently, the security forces can ‘open fire’ ‘when fired upon’ by a suspect(s). Through an amendment the government seeks to omit the phrase ‘when fired upon’.
Similarly, if the proposed amendments are approved, target killers, extortionists and kidnappers will also be treated as ‘terrorists’. And the armed forces or civil armed forces will be authorised to detain a person involved in such offences for three months for investigations. Currently, they can detain a suspect for 30 days. Apparently, the move has been prompted by the law and order situation in the megacity of Karachi.
According to the proposed amendments, these offences – target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion – shall be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of inspector or where the government deems necessary by a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising police investigating officer and officers from the armed forced, civil armed forces, intelligence agencies and other law-enforcement agencies.
The investigating officer, or the JIT, shall complete investigation in respect of cases tri-able by the court within 30 working days. The report shall be signed and forwarded by the investigating officer directly to the court.
Wherein the investigation is not completed within 30 days from the date of recording of the FIR, the investigating officer or the JIT shall forward within three days an interim report to the court through the public prosecutor.
Under the proposed amendments, a person arrested by the armed forces or civil armed forces shall be handed over to the investigating officer of the police station designated for the purpose by the provincial government in each district.
The anti-terrorism court (ATC) will proceed with the trial and if the case is not decided within 30 days, the matter shall be brought to the notice of chief justice of the high court concerned for appropriate directions. Before the commencement of trial, the court shall scrutinise the case file to identify issues and direct the prosecution to complete all pre-trial formalities so that the actual trial proceeds uninterrupted.
For protection of judges, counsel, public prosecutor and witnesses, the government proposes that screens be used during the trial to shield witnesses, judges and prosecutors from public view. The government also proposes to conduct such trials on the jail premises or through video link as well. The provincial government concerned shall take necessary steps to ensure that prisoners do not have access to cellphones in jails.
For protection and safety of judges, witnesses or prosecutors, the chief justice of high court concerned shall transfer a case from an ATC falling within its jurisdiction to an ATC in another province seeking concurrence of the chief justice of the high court of that province.
On completion of investigation and before submission of report, the federal government may order that the case falling in the jurisdiction of a particular ATC may be forwarded for trial to another ATC in the same province or in any other province as may be specified by the federal government in this behalf in the public interest or for safety and protection of judges, public prosecutors or witnesses.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2013.