Pak's toothless criminal justice system seeing terrorists 'laughing all the way to freedom'

Islamabad, Oct 30 (ANI): Pakistan's outdated criminal justice system, coupled with its financial constraints in training police or buying the forensic equipment needed to adequately investigate and prosecute terrorism cases, is resulting in a rising tide of acquittals of terrorists.

"Our criminal justice system is weak... It's rubbish and needs a lot of improvement," the Los Angeles Times quoted Mohammed Tayyab, a Pakistani prosecutor, as saying.

Tayyab, who handled 45 cases in the last year and won just four, lost some infamous terrorist attack cases, including the truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel that killed more than 50 people in the Pakistani capital in September 2008, and the June 2008 car bombing of the Danish Embassy that killed six people. The latter, Tayyab's most recent terrorism case, ended in the acquittal of three men charged with helping plan the attack.

"If we don't get convictions, there will be no end to terrorism," said Sabah Mohyuddin Khan, a lawyer and former Islamabad judge, adding, "Everyone should be worried about this. Unless killers are convicted, they'll have a free hand."

Legal experts say that militants are walking free because police investigators lack basic evidence-gathering techniques to build solid cases. Investigators eager to get terrorism investigations off their desks are also prone to framing Pakistanis on trumped-up charges. More often than not, judges see through the frame-ups and acquit the defendants.

Spurred by the June 19 acquittal of a man charged in the March 2009 siege on a Lahore Police Aacademy, the city's High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif said, "It is an alarming state of affairs that a number of accused have been acquitted by trial courts due to defective investigation and lack of sufficient evidence and, as such, failure of the prosecution to prove cases."

While acts of terrorism typically are complex crimes committed by highly trained, organized militant groups, the police assigned to investigate those crimes lack the sophisticated training to probe such cases.

"It's like fighting a war in the air with a Cessna," said former Interior Secretary Ilyas Mohsin, adding, "(The police) do not have the facilities, the training or the equipment."

In many cases, key witnesses in terrorism cases do not even show up in court, fearing retribution from militant groups, as Pakistan lacks any kind of protection program to safeguard witnesses in terrorism cases. "We are not that organized," Mohsin rued.

In the wake of militants striking virtually every week, and the list of terrorism defendants continuing to grow, some of those on the judicial front lines underline that Pakistan cannot afford to avoid tackling the problem any longer.

"To improve," Tayyab noted, "it will take time. The problem is that we have no time." (ANI)

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