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Wednesday February 21, 2024

Justice on trial

By our correspondents
August 05, 2016

Pakistani citizen Zulfikar Ali, who was arrested in Indonesia in 2004 for alleged drug trafficking and sentenced to death a year later, earned a last-minute reprieve last week after protests from Pakistan and international organisations that his trial, and that of other foreign nationals sentenced to death for trafficking, were flawed. Four people were executed but Ali was among those whose execution was halted temporarily. The details given by Ali’s lawyer about the case suggest that there is more than enough doubt about his guilt. First, there is the fact that he was never caught with any drugs. Rather, an Indian who had 300 grams of heroin on him, named Ali as the owner of the drugs. Later, however, that person said he had been beaten by the police and recanted his testimony during Ali’s trial. Ali himself has said that he was tortured into a confession and was even asked for bribes by the police. A Nigerian citizen who was also convicted on drugs charges claims to have been forced to confess after he was brutally tortured by the police. All of this may point to a culture of torture and gives more than enough reason for these cases to be reheard, at the least.

It is heartening that both the Pakistani government at home and our embassy in Jakarta pursued Ali’s case till the very end rather than leaving him to his fate. Ali has now even been able to meet with embassy officials, who need to ensure that justice is done. Just the fact that Ali was not allowed to meet anyone from the embassy during his pre-trial detention and not given access to a lawyer until a month after his arrest is ground enough for the case to be thrown out. It is also a violation of international law, which guarantees consular access to detained foreign national. That these flawed capital punishment trials are taking place under the rule of Indonesian President Joko Widodo is even more tragic since he had come into power promising to show a new respect for human rights. If he is to live up to his promise then Zulfikar Ali and so many others like him must be given the fair trials they were earlier denied.