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September 12, 2018

High court orders judicial inquiry into May 12, 2007 riots


September 12, 2018

Upholding the principle of the public’s right to information, the Sindh High Court on Tuesday ordered the Sindh government to constitute an inquiry tribunal headed by a sitting or retired high court judge to probe the violent incidents of May 12, 2007, which occurred over a decade ago.

The order came on a petition seeking the restoration of court proceedings related to the May 12, 2007 carnage and the formation of a judicial commission to probe the incident, in which more than 50 people were killed in different parts of the city during violence and armed attacks on political parties and lawyers’ rallies that wished to welcome the then chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on his arrival to the city.

The SHC, which also framed a 13-point terms of reference for the inquiry, observed that tribunal shall complete the inquiry within three months.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the criminal proceedings against the May 12 culprits by the provincial government, the court observed that “hardly any of the big fish who were part of the command and control structure in Karachi on May 12, 2007 had been named in any FIR or was facing any kind of proceedings.”

“In our view it is apparent that after 11 years of the incident either through inefficiency or design the investigation agencies, the prosecution department GOS and the Anti Terrorism Courts (ATCs) have miserably failed to discharge their duties in deciding these important cases for reasons best known to themselves,” an SHC’s division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha observed in 49-page judgment.

The court stated that the way in which 65 cases have been dealt with, investigated, prosecuted and tried was “completely unacceptable” and that despite all the videos, TV footages and other material available as evidence it seems quite astonishing that so many cases have been disposed of in A class (non-arrest of culprits).

The court observed that the events of that day still remain to be fairly, properly and independently inquired into and responsibility remains to be fixed on those responsible for any lapses on May 12, 2007 before or during the incidents.

The bench’s report stated that it has to be probed as to whether those at the helm of affairs who had command and control responsibility on and before May 12, 2007, bear any responsibility for the incident which led to a denial of access to justice to citizens, a complete breakdown in the law and order in the country’s commercial hub, cost many precious lives, injured many others, caused millions of rupees in damage to private and public property and led to an attack on the independence of the media.

The court further ordered the constitution of a joint investigation team under Section 19 of the Anti-terrorism Act to trace out all the persons involved in A class cases and make further investigation in all other cases related to the incident, and submit a report in two weeks.

The court also requested the Chief Justice of SHC to appoint a sitting judge to monitor the 65 cases of May 12 violence through monthly progress reports from the concerned trial courts which initially should give an explanation for their failure to dispose of the cases despite the passage of 11 years.

The court ordered that the inquiry tribunal shall submit its report before SHC and simultaneously make it public as the people have the right to information under Article 19 (A) of the Constitution. The purpose of report would be entirely defeated if it remained hidden away gathering dust on some shelf in the Sindh Secretariat or some other place like so many reports of other Tribunals/Commissions of the inquiry, it stated.

According to the judgment, May 12, 2007, was one of the blackest days in the history of Karachi which has seen much turmoil.

The court observed that the public has a right to know whether some persons at the helm of affairs in Sindh, in violation of the court orders, had deliberately put in place a plan to ensure that former CJP was not allowed to leave Karachi Airport and reach Malir district court and SHC and why the police and Rangers were virtual spectators while the city was overrun by miscreants and complete access to justice was denied to the public and with the legal fraternity being particularly targeted.

The court observed that the public also has the right to know what role the federal government played in the planning or unfolding of the incident, what was the role of the coalition government in Sindh as it appears from the record that activists of Muttahida Quami Movement or any other political party or group who largely terrorised the public and especially lawyers on that day. The court also directed the Sindh government to file a compliance report with regard to payment of compensation to the aggrieved persons of the May 12 incident.

Meanwhile, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, the chief minister’s information and law adviser, said in a statement that the Sindh administration would provide the judiciary assistance of every kind to bring the perpetrators of the Baldia fire and May 12 cases to book.

The statement was issued on the sixth anniversary of the Baldia tragedy. The adviser said that both the incidents are not just instances of cruel oppression against humanity, but they are in fact heinous crimes committed against the entire society. “It is our foremost priority to get justice for the victims of the tragedies of the Baldia factory fire and the May 12 mayhem, as the provincial government would extend full support in whatever form required by the judiciary.”

Wahab said that those who have supported dictatorial regimes in the past also perpetrated the tragedies of the Baldia fire and May 12 riots. He lauded the services of each and every person who played their due part in the dispensation of justice in the cases related to the Baldia fire and May 12 riots.

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