Protect witnesses

 
June 08, 2018

Safeguarding witnesses in prominent criminal or political cases and ensuring they are able to put forward their testimony without duress has for decades remained a major problem in the country. This...

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Safeguarding witnesses in prominent criminal or political cases and ensuring they are able to put forward their testimony without duress has for decades remained a major problem in the country. This is true even after the passage of the Witness Protection Act, which has been in force in Sindh since 2013 but has never been effectively used. The lawyer representing the late Naqeebullah Mehsud and three others killed with him in a staged encounter carried out by the infamous Rao at Malir in January have demanded protection for witnesses, pointing out that one important witness, a police officer, had already retracted his testimony. It can be assumed this is linked to the fact that the suspended SSP Rao Anwar has a history of carrying out extrajudicial murders at will and is protected by influential people. Advocate Salahuddin Panhwar, who is representing Naqeeb’s father, told the court that Rao Anwar, according to a police report, had murdered 444 people in Malir in illegal encounters during his tenure.

Rao Anwar is accused along with 11 accomplices of first abducting Naqeebullah for ransom and then killing him on January 13 in a staged encounter. 15 other officers in the case are absconding. Rao Anwar too had escaped capture following the killing and handed himself in to the Supreme Court only weeks later in March after growing pressure regarding the high-profile case. As yet he remains unpunished for his crimes. This indeed replicates the past history of our country in which killers backed by powerful forces have escaped scot-free. The ATC is also to rule on two applications challenging the unusual detention of Rao Anwar at his home in Malir Cantonment, which has been declared a sub-jail. His lawyers are also seeking even better facilities for the ‘suspended’ SSP who was brought to court without handcuffs during his period in detention. The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the matter and had directed the IGP of Sindh to provide full protection to witnesses and complainants in the matter on February 1 this year. It is quite apparent this is not happening. The threat against them is a very real one. Because he remains at his residence, Rao Anwar continues to wield influence. There are currently serious apprehensions that other persons too could back away from providing their accounts of the brutal encounter in Karachi to the court and, in such a situation, there can be little hope for fairness in this case or the law to be enforced. But this should happen so that all those responsible for the killings of five young men can be penalised as laid down by the law.


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