07 February 2014

The Draconian Law

Courtesy: Viewpoint Online

Sarfraz Shah, an unarmed 22 year old, was shot in cold blood by the Rangers in Karachi on 8th June 2011. As luck would have it, the incident was filmed and it went on air. This angered the people; consequently the authorities were compelled to take action against the Rangers personnel who shot Sarfraz Shah dead. The killer was awarded death sentence by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), Karachi. The ATC verdict was upheld by the Sindh High court. However, if an unarmed person is shot in the similar ghastly manner, the killer-in-uniform will get away with it in case the Protection of Pakistan (Amended) Ordinance 2013 is promulgated.

In the guise of Anti-Terrorism laws, President Mamnoom Hussein, on the advice of PML-N government, is introducing a draconian law. This ordinance violates all norms and values besides certain provisions in the Constitution of Pakistan. Oppressed sections of the society will suffer the most once this ordinance comes into effect after a go ahead from the parliament. Previously, this ordinance was issued September last year. It generated protests in Sindh and Opposition in the parliament flayed it bitterly. As a result, it was amended. However, while some objectionable clauses were twisted to silence the criticism, a few more draconian ones were added.

According to the proposed ordinance, the security forces can shoot anyone on suspicion and if the victim happens to be an innocent person, the security forces would still get away with it because they acted in good faith. A suspect can be detained at an undisclosed location for a period of three months without any judicial remand. The security forces can raid any house and arrest any suspected terrorist without any warrant. 

The ordinance also envisages establishment of ‘special courts’. Their verdict could only be challenged in the Supreme Court. Interestingly, however, the government can drop the case against a suspect when it deems fit. The special courts will be obliged to follow the official instructions. That the burden of proof will be borne by the accused, is yet another scary proposal. This is against the basic spirit of justice system in which everyone is innocent until proven guilty. 

Specifically, who will be hit by this draconian law? Potentially anyone in Pakistan. However, Baloch and Sindhis will be the prime victims. Understandably, the Sindhi nationalists are already protesting against the ordinance. Weaker sections of the society will bear the brunt of the proposed. The privileged class has several options to escape the writ of any law.

True, Pakistan is facing the existential threat from the scourge of terrorism. The terrorists operate with impunity and are seldom arrested. When arrested, their conviction rate is abysmal. Pakistan is in need of updated anti-terror laws. However, the anti-terror laws should be invoked to serve justice instead of scapegoating common folks in name of security. Rather than eliminating terror, the proposed law will spread more terror.

Moreover, effective legislation is not the core problem. There are existing laws that may be invoked. However, actual problem is the collapse of judicial system which in turn cannot be attributed only to a collapse of law and order in Pakistan. Inefficiency of the law enforcement agencies and on the part of government’s prosecution department is also a contributing factor. 

It is encouraging to see PPP, PTI and MQM on the same page against this draconian ordinance. Pakistan should progress with passage of time and not move backwards by adopting a law that resembles Defense of Pakistan Rules of Ayub-era.

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