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LAHORE: At a juncture when every Pakistani citizen finds himself trapped in a labyrinth of terror, the extremely serious issue pertaining to the security of court judges has also cropped up yet again.
It is true that court judges anywhere in the world wield a lot of influence; a few aspects of their lives are not enviable at all.Though perils have loomed large on the lives of sitting judges in many countries like Italy, Columbia, India, Iraq and the United States etc, it has certainly been an uphill task to dispense justice in Pakistan.
Here follow the pointers pertaining to some major incidents of violence/terrorism and personal enmity that have made both Pakistani arbiters and other judicial officers vulnerable in recent years:
In November 2014, one person was killed in an explosion targeting a vehicle carrying anti-terrorist court judge Nazeer Ahmed Langove in Quetta. The judge had remained unhurt.In June 2014, unknown gunmen had opened fire in Quetta, killing Environmental Tribunal judge Sakhi Sultan.
In March 2014, an Additional Sessions judge Rafaqat Awan was among the dozen people killed in an attack on an Islamabad court.
In February 2014, Aqib Shahani, the son of District and Sessions Judge Jacobabad, Khalid Hussain Shahani, was killed.
On June 26, 2013,Sindh High Court Judge Maqbool Baqir was attacked by militants in Karachi while he was on his way to the court.
On August 30, 2012, gunmen had shot dead a Shia judge Zulfiqar Naqvi along with his driver and police bodyguard in a suspected sectarian attack in Quetta.
On March 18, 2012, a policeman was killed when unknown men had opened fire at the residence of Multan’s Shariat Court judge.
On July 17, 2007, at least 17 people were killed as a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside the venue of the district bar council convention in Islamabad, killing some PPP political workers waiting for the arrival of the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, who was
due to address a lawyers’ convention.
This attack had come on the heels of the bloodshed at Lal Masjid, which had claimed over 100 lives just a week earlier.
On May 13, 2007, Syed Hammad Raza, a senior official at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, was shot dead near his home in Islamabad. The slain official was a close associate of the then CJ Iftikhar Chaudhary.
On February 17, 2007, a suicide bomber had killed 15 people including a judge Wahid Durrani inside a courtroom in Quetta.
On July 25, 2003, three civil judges and five prisoners were killed inside the Sialkot district jail, while the lower judiciary arbiters were on their monthly judicial inspection.
Police had later raided the prison to free 10 judges taken hostage by armed prisoners, who were demanding their freedom in return for that of the judges.
Besides demanding a safe passage from the jail, the captors also wanted a bus and guns from the negotiating authorities.
The judges who had died in the shootout were identified as additional district and sessions judge Sagheer Anwar and civil judges Shahid Ranjha and Asif Mumtaz Cheema.
In 2003, the then Lahore High Court judge (later elevated as Chief Justice Lahore High Court and thereafter as a Supreme Court arbiter) Khawaja Sharif and his wife Ayesha Sharif were stabbed by their former domestic servant Muhammad Yousaf at their residence in Lahore.
The servant had been relieved of his duties for stealing. Justice Sharif was stabbed in the face and neck in the wee hours of the day when he had got up to offer Tahajjud prayers.
In 1996, Justice Nizam-ud-Din Ahmed of the Sindh High Court and his son Nadeem Ahmed Advocate were killed outside their Karachi residence.
The charge sheet had attributed the double murder case to a dispute over a prized land plot near Karachi’s Awami Markaz at Shahra-e-Faisal, as Justice Nizam had reportedly opposed its commercialization and illegal allotment.
Here follows a list of some global incidents where incumbent arbiters were assassinated, targeted unsuccessfully or physically assaulted by disgruntled plaintiffs, foes in high places or by the enraged drug lords:
In 1979, an American judge John Wood was assassinated at the behest of a local drug dealer.
In 1988, Justice Richard Daronco of New York was killed at his home by a retired police officer and the father of the unsuccessful lady plaintiff in a sex discrimination and sexual harassment case.
In 1989, Justice Robert Smith Vance was killed instantly at his home in Alabama, when he had opened a package containing a mail bomb. His wife, Helen, was seriously injured.
Appointed by President George Bush, another American judge John Roll was fatally shot in January 2011 (along with five others) outside a supermarket. A gunman had actually opened fire at an event held by a US politician Gabrielle Giffords, who was also injured.
In 2005, as CNN and the Chicago Tribune had reported that the 64-year old husband and the 90-year old mother of a female US District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, were shot dead by a local electrician in the basement of her home.
In 2005, US Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes was shot dead in his courtroom after convicting a man for rape.
In 2009, according to wire agency Associated Press, an American judge Cinda Fox was attacked by a man on a murder trial.
Justice Fox had suffered minor injuries, before a police detective had shot the culprit in the head and shoulder.
In 2010, Judge Cinda Fox had decided to retire, saying she was too emotionally scared to work.
In 2014, another US judge Katherine Forrest had received chilling online death threats from supporters of the alleged mastermind behind the notorious illegal-drug-peddling web site “Silk Road.”
The US National Public Radio (NPR), which serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States, had revealed on April 1, 2013 that at least 1,370 threats were received by US federal judges in 2012.
According to a CNN report of 2009, the number of threats against federal judges and prosecutors had shot from 500 in 2003 to 1,278 in 2008.
Meanwhile, Justice Frederic Block, an American federal district court arbiter, had maintained: “These threats have increased dramatically during the last decade, growing from 592 in 2003 to approximately 1,400 in 2010. During this six-year period, there were 5,744 threats directed at federal judges and prosecutors.”
Few US judges today publish their residential address or phone number. Many of them have closed down their Facebook accounts and a good number of them have simply abandoned the majority of their acquaintances.
By the way, the history of US Marshals providing security to American judges dates back to 1889, when a President Lincoln-appointed Supreme Court judge and fifth Chief Justice of California Stephen Field was guarded against life threats hurled by his predecessor and fourth California Chief Justice, David Terry, who had earlier killed Senator David Broderick and stabbed a Vigilance Committee member Sterling Hopkins.
Justice Field had ruled against Mr. and Mrs. Terry in a final appeal, and had jailed them both on contempt of court. The Terrys had vowed vengeance.
After David Terry had assaulted Justice Field at a train station, the sitting judge’s bodyguard and a US Marshal David Neagle had instead shot and killed Terry on the spot.
Both Justice Field and David Neagle were consequently arrested, but later freed.
This was the moment when US Apex Court had ruled in a landmark decision that since bodyguard Neagle was acting under federal authority, he could not be subject to California law.
The court had determined that the US Attorney General had authority to appoint US Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices, ruling further that Marshal Neagle had acted within the scope of his authority.
(References: The website of the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco and Paul Kirchner’s book “Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques)
Even today, the US Marshals are entrusted with the task of protecting judges through technological advances in security devices and systems, threat analysis, protective services and training.
Coming to Italy, in 1992, an Italian judge (magistrate) Giovanni Falcone was killed by the Sicilian Mafia or La Cosa Nostra, together with his wife Francesca Morvillo (herself a magistrate) and three of his bodyguards.
Falcone was one of the major organisers of the famous “Maxi Trials” (1986-1987), during which 360 drug peddlers/dealers were convicted for serious crimes. Not fewer than 119 of these were also charged in absentia.
Another Italian judge Paolo Borsellino was killed by a Mafia car bomb, just 57 days after his friend and fellow Anti-mafia magistrate Falcone was assassinated. He is remembered as one of the main symbols of the battle of the State against the Mafia. The airport in Italian city of Palermo was re-named Falcone-Borsellino Airport to honour the two judges.
In recent years, top Italian law-enforcement leaders have met frequently to guarantee maximum protection for Sicilian magistrates whose lives have been threatened by the Cosa Nostra Mafia.
A few years ago, four magistrates in Sicily were put under the “highest level” of police protection after threats concerning their investigations of the Cosa Nostra Mafia.
In India, an Additional District and Sessions Judge Vijay Singh was killed in Patiala in 2005.
“The Indian Express” had reported that two Patiala residents, Dr. Ravdeep Kaur and Granthi Manjit Singh, were convicted on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy.
The case dates back to 2005, when Vijay Singh, Additional District and Sessions Judge at Patiala, was posted as the presiding officer of the city’s labour court.
Dr. Kaur, who ran Ravi Hospital at Patiala, had been known to Vijay since childhood as their fathers were good friends. Kaur, a mother of one, wanted Vijay to divorce his wife and marry her. However, Vijay, a father of three, had refused to do so, after which his spouse had plotted to kill him.
In 2012, in the wake of attacks on three trial court judges in the Indian capital, Delhi’s Acting Chief Justice A.K. Sikri had expressed anguish over the incident and had assured all judicial officers of their personal safety and a fearless environment to dispense justice.
In India, Z+ Security (highest level) is reserved for the country’s President, Vice-President, Prime-Minister, Supreme Court and High Court Judges, Governors of State, Chief Ministers and Cabinet Ministers.
The Z+ category has a security cover of 36 personnel who ensure round-the-clock protection for a select number of VIPs. This security cover is given by the National Security Guard commandos. They are armed with sophisticated MP5 guns and modern communication gadgets and each member of the team is adept in martial arts and unarmed combat skills.
To further add tooth to the security cover, Cobra commandos, 12 home guards, an escort, a pilot and tailing vehicles are included.
But despite enjoying Z+ security cover, an eminent encounter specialist Rajbir Singh was killed in 2008.
Similarly, former Union minister Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by a member of her own security detail. Rajiv Gandhi was also killed in a blast.
(Reference: The Hindustan Times)
Columbia is perhaps the worst country when it comes to judges’ security. According to the Association of Judicial Employees in Colombia, 287 judicial officials have been assassinated and hundreds more were subjected to violence and intimidation over the past 20 years.
Within the past two decades, 750 judiciary officers have been threatened, including 220 in the last four years; 42 officials have been kidnapped, 39 are missing, 40 more have been forced into exile and 31 were forced to relocate.
In 1985, three vehicles holding 35 guerrillas had stormed the Colombian Palace of Justice in capital Bogota, killing 12 of the 25 Supreme Court judges.
The whole of Supreme Court was held hostage when it was just about to hold the trial of former President Belisario Betancur.
According to Ana Carrigan’s 1993 book “The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy,” the Supreme Court Chief Justice Alfonso Reyes was apparently burnt alive during the assault, as someone had incinerated his body after pouring gasoline over it.
Even Eduardo Umana, the first attorney representing some of the families of the people killed during the siege, was assassinated in 1998 and several members of those families had to flee to Europe because of death threats to them.
(Reference: Grace Livingstone’s 2004 book “ Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy, and War”)
Extensive research reveals that not only is the current internal security situation of Pakistan similar to that of the notorious cocaine haven of Colombia, but both the insurgency-ridden nations are also comparable in many ways.
Given Colombia s reputation as a drug haven and a country which till very recently had the highest murder rate in the world, this comparison is surely a shame but it provides an insight into the fact that Pakistan is certainly not treading on a graceful path.
The way the US claims it is supporting the Pakistani government today to uproot terrorists and terrorism both, the CIA-employed hunter-killer teams had also assisted the Colombian rulers during the 1960s and 1970s to track down the lethal dissidents.
In 2011, the Colombian authorities had reported that the dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and its clandestine sister groups were hiding amongst sympathisers in the civilian population. Not different is the scenario in Pakistan currently.
The United States has been heavily involved in the Colombian conflict since its beginning in the early 1960s, when Washington had pushed the Colombian military to attack peasant communities in rural Colombia, as part of its fight against communism.
In Pakistan’s case, the US had initially provided all logistic and financial support to the Taliban to stop the Soviet invasion and then when the target was achieved, it had left its local allies in the lurch. These local assets had then turned against the US and Pakistan in vengeance.
Like Pakistan, Colombia also witnesses a large presence of the US military personnel and civilian contractors on its territory.
Both have been the key recipients of US aid for decades, speaking volumes of the level of Washington s intervention in both these countries that are busy fighting stiff rebellions till date.
While numerous Colombian regimes loyal to the United States of America are responsible for the 47-year old armed conflict in this South American nation, the current Taliban-led insurgency in Pakistan has also been widely attributed to the flawed policies of successive pro-Washington governments that have called shots from the cozy power corridors in Islamabad.
In 1999, the Colombian military had also launched an offensive on its own land by using US supplied aircraft, logistical support and military equipment to annihilate the insurgents. The Colombian Army had bombed a town for over 72 hours consecutively in a bid to eliminate the revolutionaries.
In 2008, numerous paramilitary leaders languishing in Colombian jails were extradited to the United States on drug-related charges, the way Pakistan has since long been extraditing such elements to America.
Like the former Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had once claimed that the backbone of al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives inside Pakistan was broken, a Colombian Vice President had also branded the guerrilla groups in his country as paper tigers who exercised little control of his nation’s territory.
Another common aspect that makes the task of both Colombian and Pakistan Armed forces even tougher is the difficult terrain they have been encountering.
As it has been the case in Pakistan, the Colombian rebel groups have also been involved in sabotaging Army installations and state-owned infrastructure, besides being explicitly guilty of killing thousands of innocent civilians ruthlessly.
Quite a lot of temporary cease-fires were also reached between the Colombian governments and the guerilla forces but peace still remains an elusive goal, as has been the case in Pakistan.
The story of analogies between Pakistan and Colombia does not end here as both do not enjoy cordial dealings with some of their neighbours. While Pakistan and India have fought four wars in 64 years, Colombia and Venezuela have had sour relationship since 2001.
In 2011, a Brazilian judge Patricia Acioli was shot dead in Rio de Janeiro.
In 2010, a judge and a clerk were killed by an Albanian man inside a court in central Brussels.
In March 2006, a judge was shot dead by a radical lawyer in Turkish court over ban on headscarves.
(Reference: The Guardian)
In United Kingdom, although the court judges have had little threat from terrorists, they have been physically attacked in court buildings.
Those assaulted were primarily Family court judges, dealing with sensitive issues including child custody. Around 30 such incidents were recorded, including one direct threat to life and three physical attacks.
A prestigious British daily “The Guardian” had stated: “Despite the HM Courts & Tribunals Service saying it had “a robust security and safety system to protect court users and the judiciary”, families whose cases were being heard were able to throw chairs and water at judges. Other judges reported being spat at. Six received abusive or threatening correspondence.”
By the way, in 2013, a man was jailed in England for 18 months on the charges of attacking a judge John Devaux and knocking off his wig.
In 2014, rampaging jihadists had killed the famous Iraqi judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman, who had sentenced Saddam Hussein to death.
In Iraq again, gunmen had shot dead the brother-in-law and 10-year old nephew of Justice Mohammed al-Ureybi, the judge trying Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. This happened in 2006.
(Reference: The Telegraph)
According to a “Washington Post” report of November 19, 2001, two Mexican judges and the wife of one were killed by drug-traffickers.
In China, three arbiters were shot dead in 2010, after a man nourishing a grudge over an unfavourable ruling, had opened fire at them.
(Reference: Xinhua News Agency)