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October 14, 2018

The question of cuffs


October 14, 2018

The government may have prioritised the fight against corruption but it needs to ensure that all entities follow the law and international norms in the way they treat those who have been accused of wrongdoing. It is important that the presumption of innocence be granted to everyone and that those facing investigation do not have their rights and dignity violated. The treatment meted out to former Punjab University vice chancellor Dr Mujahid Kamran and five other ex-registrars in a case regarding illegal appointments and nepotism should be condemned as outrageous by all involved – and the government needs to take action against those responsible. On Friday, the accused were brought to an accountability court in handcuffs even though they evidently posed no security risk. It seems the only purpose in handcuffing them was to humiliate them. Both the chief justice and the NAB chairman of have taken notice of the incident after it caused outrage on social media. At this point it is not clear if the decision to handcuff the professors was taken by NAB or the Punjab police but an investigation is needed into this.

This incident also highlights the danger of the anti-corruption drive morphing into a witch hunt. Even ordinary criminals are not usually handcuffed unless it is feared they present a security threat. Through actions of this kind, NAB lessens the respect for itself in the eyes of the public. In any drive against corruption there must be perceptions that the actions taken are transparent, lawful and just. When these basic rules are violated, a great deal of confusion is created in society. The charges against the former Punjab University employees may well have some merit to them but actions like this are prejudicial as they give the impression that the accused are guilty before the case has even been heard in a court of law. Nor will dragging professors away in this fashion cure the underlying problem.

NAB needs to ensure that there is no suspicion of vindictiveness in its approach to dealing with wrongdoing so that people can be persuaded that it is making an honest attempt to clean up society. Currently this belief has been diluted as a result of recent NAB behavior in a variety of cases. In any case, the state seems to enjoy inflicting pain and punishment on those who have been accused of corruption even though it is rarely successful in its actual job of presenting airtight cases against them. As a civilised society we have to protect the rights of everyone – even if they have been accused of serious crimes.

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