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January 29, 2020

SHC directs govt to make Uzair Baloch, Baldia factory’s JIT reports public

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January 29, 2020

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday directed the Sindh government to make public the findings of the Joint Investigation Teams that investigated the organised crime syndicate run by Lyari gangster Uzair Baloch, former chairman of Fishermen Cooperative Society Dr Nisar Morai and Baldia factory fire and observed that the "general public has the right to know about the findings of the JIT, which are public documents."

"To know, subject to certain restrictions, is the fundamental right of a personand which shall be the prime concern in a democratic dispensation," the SHC division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Justice Shamsuddin Abbasi observed while delivering a landmark judgment on the public right to information guaranteed under Article 19A of the Constitution.

"If such incidents, which are barbaric in nature, happen and the public is deprived of access to the information qua the outcome of investigations conducted by the JITs in regard of such incidents, it would mean that the democratic government is not interested in telling the truth about those who are involved, which will result in weakening of the whole system," the court observed. The court observed that it had gone through the JIT reports of Uzair Baloch and Baldia factory fire and the court has not found anything "contrary to the national security." The court observed that if such reports are publicized, particularly when most of the facts of such cases have already been brought to the knowledge of public through different mediums, including print and electronic media, no prejudice would be caused to either party at trial.

The bench observed that points which need to be noted is whether a gruesome incident like Baldia factory fire resulting into the death of 259 people and injuring about 600 persons can be tolerated in a civilized society and whether it would be justified to deprive the families of deceased and injured from knowing the outcome of the JIT investigations. The same argument goes for investigations into the affairs of Uzair Baloch and Dr Nisar Morai. The court observed that no one can deny that it is the right of every citizen to know the findings of JITs. The court held that there appears to be no dispute that the JIT reports fall within the meaning of public documents as envisaged under Article 85 of Qanoon-e-Shahadat order 1984. The court observed that the provisions of Qanoon-e-Shahadat order read with Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016 prove that the general public has a right to know the JIT findings which are public documents. The court observed that every person has a right to seek information relating to any issue of public importance unless restricted by the relevant regulations. The court observed that nothing has been stated or pointed out in the instant matter restricting the petitioner’s right to seek information.

The court ruled out the objections raised by the Advocate General Sindh observing that restrictions enumerated in the law are quite distinguishable and have no bearing on the facts of the case of the petitioner.

PTI leader Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, who is now a federal minister, had submitted in the petition that startling disclosures were made in the JIT reports about the involvement of politicians in several killings and extortion. The relevant authorities were approached for copies of the reports to make them public, but to no avail, the PTI official stated. Uzair Baloch, tried by a military court under charges of espionage for Iranian intelligence agencies, had confessed his association with Pakistan People's Party’s central leadership, including its women’s wing leader Faryal Talpur, said Zaidi.

Zaidi claimed that Baloch admitted paying extortion amounts received from different departments to Talpur. Besides, he also confessed to killing several people on the directives of the political party’s leadership and forcibly taking over private land and properties by threatening the owners.

Invoking Article 19-A of the Constitution, the PTI leader asserted that the provincial and federal governments' failure to publish such JIT reports is a violation of the citizens’ right to information. The court was requested to publish and provide official copies of the JIT reports of these cases.

The Sindh government had earlier submitted JIT reports of Lyari gangster Uzair Baloch and Baldia factory fire for the perusal of the court in camera. The court was informed that there were only two joint investigation teams report pertaining to Uzair Baloch and Baldia factory fire case suspect Abdul Rehman alias Bhola which were produced before the trial court, while the JIT report of Dr. Nisar Morai, conducted by the former SSP Malir Rao Anwar, was not found either with the police or in judicial record.

The Advocate General, Sindh, Salman Talibuddin, questioned the maintainability of the petition and submitted that JIT reports are not public documents and it was exclusively for the consumption of the executive. He submitted that JITs have no evidentiary value and their release would not only materially affect the trial, prejudice the mind of the trial court and general public damaging the right of fair trial guaranteed under Article 10-A of the Constitution.