Pak anti-terror courts acquit nearly 700 accused

According to an official report, the Punjab Public Prosecution Department initiated proceedings against hardened criminals and activists of banned groups in 1,324 cases registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act from January 1 to September 30 this year.

These cases were taken up by 14 anti-terrorism courts in cities and towns like Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Faisalabad and Sargodha, the Dawn newspaper reported today.

The Prosecution Department succeeded in getting suspects convicted in 199 cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Department got 235 cases transferred from anti-terrorism courts to lower courts because the cases could not be tried under the Act.

These cases were related to offences like kidnapping for ransom, murder, possession of explosives, violence against government employees, life threats, activities of banned groups and religious or hate literature.

The prosecution or any other department could not take action against terrorists because their hideouts are located in areas where even the government has little or no control, said Punjab Chief Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Jahangir Ahmad.

To get criminals convicted in all cases, the government will have to adopt an effective strategy, he said. "The reasons behind resile of the witnesses in high-profile terrorism cases are fear, distrust of police, social pressure and compromise between the parties through political and influential people," Ahmad said.

Witnesses in developed countries are protected through a "witness protection system" but police and other law enforcement agencies in Pakistan had no such system, he said. The department has no mechanism to check the performance of police investigating high-profile cases, he said.

"But now we have been given powers to summon police officials with copies of first information reports. After evaluating the FIRs, prosecutors will now send to anti-terrorism courts only the cases with solid witnesses.

"Cases having weak witnesses or evidence will be discharged at the police station level in consultation with prosecutors and deputy superintendents of police (legal)," Ahmad said.

The police department lacks the latest equipment and instruments, especially forensic laboratories in Punjab, Ahmad said. The government plans to establish a forensic laboratory in Lahore soon.

Assistant Inspector General of Police Muhammad Kamran Khan said availability of scientific evidence like fingerprints could lead to convictions. "Actually, we are only depending on witnesses and ignoring scientific evidence. Most witnesses resile during recording of statements or cross-examination, leading to acquittal of the accused in high-profile cases," he said.

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