PAKISTAN: The proposed ‘Fair Trial Bill’ may create conditions for a police state without martial law 

The ‘Fair Trial Bill’ which, according to the news report, the government plans to place before parliament will, if passed, virtually make the fair trial impossible in Pakistan. The provisions of the bill are designed for the conviction of persons without fair trial.

The direct impact of the proposed law will be to tie the hands of the courts, including the Supreme Court and deny them the possibility to protect the individual rights of citizens. Through such legislation the judiciary can be overridden and the most basic functions of the courts can be undermined as the guardians of human rights.

The bill makes provision for the tapping of people’s telephones and other intercepting all private communications. The justification is that this will help to catch terrorists. In fact, the impact of this bill will be that there will be no way at all to know as to whether an alleged suspect is, in fact, a terrorist or not. This proposed law will allow the punishment of persons purely on the basis of allegations.

Judging by what is available in the reports the bill cleverly manipulates terminology. It says that modern techniques and devices will be used for criminal investigations. However, by modern methods, is not meant the reform of the archaic criminal justice system in Pakistan. If it were meant to completely undo the dysfunctional criminal investigation system which presently relies almost solely on the use of torture and the most rude methods by the least educated group of ‘officers’ that would be a boon to the country. There is not even the slightest suggestion of that kind of rational reform to modernize the system and to bring into par with more developed systems that are available now in many parts of the world.

What is envisaged is torture plus wire tapping and other forms of interference into private communications by disregarding even the limited safeguards that are now available within the system. Even what is now available is hardly adequate and as a result of the proposed bill there will be no safeguards at all.

Enforced disappearances are already happening and there are complaints of many innocent people going missing. There is heavy criticism about such violations. Instead of dealing with such criticism and taking positive measures to improve a decadent system the new measures proposed will allow greater space for barbarism.

If the absence of a modern criminal investigation system is one of the reasons favouring terrorists the sensible thing to do is to develop the system in terms of more sophisticated capacities by way of dismissing most of the incapable officers from the top downwards and replacing them with better trained officers and providing them with the most essential things for the running of an investigation system such as proper office equipment, the facilities that are now made available to investigators in all developed jurisdictions, bringing them under strict discipline by the enforcement of command responsibility and also bring them to act with complete cooperation with the judicial authorities.

Pakistan does have the resources, financial and otherwise for bringing its criminal investigation authorities to a quality that is required to enable the discharge of their duties. What is lacking is the political will to modernize the system.

Modernising the system also has another obstacle which is the corruption that spreads from the top to the bottom. When powers such as wire tapping and interference with private communications are granted to officers who are already severely corrupt it is inevitable that there will be a further increase of corruption. Many persons, including those of the business community may soon be accused of being ‘terrorists’ purely for the purpose of taking advantage their wealth.

Another strange provision of this proposed law is that it will not apply to members of parliament or the provincial assemblies until permitted by the speaker of the legislature or chairman of the senate. If the proposed law is legitimate why are these people exempted from its purview. The obvious reason may be to get their consent for the passing of this law. What guarantee is there that anyone of them may also be in direct or indirect contact with terrorists?

Obviously this proposed law is contrary to all international norms and standards. Besides it cannot achieve the purported aim of controlling terrorism. It will only endanger more people and particularly dissidents, independent intellectuals, journalists and every person with an independent view will be placed in great danger.

It will also spread distrust and paranoia.

This kind of law makes it possible to have the situation of a police state without having martial law. The people have distrust of militarism and martial law and it is not possible to recreate them without popular opposition. Under the circumstances more sophisticated ways could be found to enable the same abuse of authority by externally less threatening legislation which, in fact, could create the same draconian control as under earlier repressive situations.

The AHRC has consistently campaigned for a radical reform of the criminal justice system and making the capacity of criminal investigations in Pakistan to be raised to the same quality as in more developed jurisdictions. We repeat this same call again.  We call upon all discerning people to grasp the danger of the proposed ‘fair trial bill’.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-176-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions, Institutional reform, Military, Right to fair trial, Torture,