KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has called a report on the proceedings initiated by the Customs authorities against the alleged traffickers of 218 rare, black-spotted turtles.
A division bench, headed by SHC Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar, also directed the deputy attorney general to file replies of the interior ministry and the climate change division on efforts to curb the smuggling of endangered species from Pakistan. The bench also issued a notice to the alleged trafficker through the Customs court to appear on December 12.
These directions came on a petition filed by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society and others. The NGOs had sought a thorough probe into the smuggling of endangered species, including black-spotted turtles and tortoises, and the prosecution of smugglers under anti-smuggling and Customs laws.
The petitioners, who had approached the court after alleged turtle traffickers were arrested in Karachi last month, said the black-spotted turtles and tortoises are endangered species and protected under the Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Flora and Fauna Act 2012 and other related wildlife and anti-smuggling laws. The illegal trafficking of turtles mainly from South Asia has escalated in the past two years, the petition said, adding that these animals are collected from this region and then shipped to Thailand for sale.
Referring to a report on the smuggling of endangered wildlife, the petitioners said that over 1,960 turtles had been seized in 22 raids between January 2008 and March this year, with around 95 per cent of them confiscated in the past 15 months. “The black-spotted turtles are worth $1,780 in the black market and have frequently been smuggled from Pakistan to China and Thailand,” the petition said.
The petitioners disclosed that one of the traffickers, Sajid Cheema, was arrested with 218 blacks-potted turtles from Karachi on September 20. The suspect has, however, been handed over to the Sindh wildlife department instead of being booked under the Custom laws, the petitioners’ lawyer, Faisal Siddiqui pointed out. He argued that Cheema, who was freed from detention on bail, was being tried under the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance before a judicial magistrate in Malir district instead of being tried under the Customs Act.
The lawyer said that the alleged trafficker will be released after the imposition of a “minor penalty or lesser punishment”, as the Customs authorities were required to retain his travelling documents till the final disposal of the case under the Customs Act. “But, no proceedings have been initiated against the alleged traffickers,” he said, and pleaded the court stay the trial proceedings before the judicial magistrate till the transfer of the trial application is decided.
During Friday’s proceedings, the Customs authorities filed their comments, stating that proceedings have already been initiated against the suspected traffickers under the relevant act. Also, a show-cause notice has been issued to the trafficker.
Taking the Customs authorities on record, the two judges directed the Customs authorities to file a report on the proceedings initiated by them against the alleged smuggler.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2014.