HYDERABAD, PAKISTAN: Raja Qureshi, chief prosecutor in the Daniel Pearl case, speaks to the news media from the grounds of the central jail July 15, 2002 in Hyderabad, Pakistan. The British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for the kidnap and death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Three accomplices were sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo: Syed Zargham/Getty Images
On Nov 14, the Prosecutor General for Sindh province, Shahadat Awan, confirmed that the special public prosecutor in the Daniel Pearl murder case, Raja Qureshi, had resigned.
Awan was speaking to The Express Tribune newspaper, where I run the metropolitan section. Awan was talking to our court reporter Zeeshan Mujahid about security concerns for lawyers fighting terrorist cases on behalf of the state.
The Pearl case was moved to the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, which is two hours by road from Karachi. (Not to be confused with the Hyderabad in India). Sensitive cases are transferred between the two cities if the jail authorities believe that the man standing trial has too many buddies in jail. The terrorism cases are mostly tried in jail for security as well.
When asked about the resignation of Raja Qureshi, the SPP in the Daniel Pearl murder case, Awan told The Express Tribune that the trial was moved to Hyderabad for security reasons. He said that the government had paid Qureshi Rs2.5 million and each of his aides Rs0.5 million to fight the case. The Sindh Prosecution department received a number of letters from the trial court in Hyderabad, according to which the SPP was not appearing for the trial.
Upon inquiring, it was found that no one was appearing on behalf of the state, said Awan. After that I wrote a letter to the Home department, stating that a huge amount was paid to SPP Raja Qureshi and if he is not conducting the case, he may be asked to return the fee or the “facility” provided to him be withdrawn. This might have prompted the Home department to with draw the police escort and this is perhaps why he resigned, said the PG, adding that he would look into the matter of his resignation on Monday, Nov 22.
[This news sounded a little convoluted to me and I am waiting for the reporter to follow up on this case. I do not believe Qureshi resigned only over security complaints. But more on that once I’ve ascertained the facts. I need to also add here that the Daniel Pearl case is a complex one with many, many facets. This blog is not the proper place to discuss its intricacies and I cannot purport to know certain elements of the case. I have heard many, many things over the years, terrible things. But none of them can be confirmed without risk, especially to the reporters who can provide me information. The case is at the appellate stage now and I believe there are two sets of accused.]
But I did not start writing this post because of this case alone. There was something else I wanted to bring up.
Lawyers fighting terrorist cases have been in the spotlight in Karachi. In fact, there was a disturbing development last week, as you would have seen on television.
On Nov 12, Karachi was literally rocked by a bomb blast – the meteorological office said it hit a 1.3 on the Richter Scale. Terrorists attacked the office of the Criminal Investigations Department with enough explosives to blow a 15-foot deep crater in the ground and decimate the building. The CID police are the cops who go after the terrorists in Karachi and they had recently been making some high-profile arrests. Many people believe that the attack was an act of revenge, but there is still debate on exactly what the motive could have been.
The terrorist attack was the largest Karachi has seen in terms of damage, journalists argued. It took place in the red zone which encompasses three five-star hotels (The Sheraton, The Pearl Continental and the Marriot) and Chief Minister House and Governor House. Mercifully, only 17 people were killed but about 100 people were injured. When we saw the first footage trickle in, we gasped in the newsroom and I had been certain that the toll would have been in the high double digits.
A few days later our newspaper’s court reporter Zeeshan Mujahid filed this story:
Lawyers baulk at fighting terrorist cases
KARACHI: Apparently terrorised by Thursday’s attack on the Criminal Investigation Department, government lawyers fighting terrorist cases went to court, saying they feared for their safety.
Muhammad Khan Buriro, a prosecutor for anti-terrorism court III, headed by Judge Anand Ram Hotwani, moved an application in a case against alleged members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan for attacking AIGP Farooq Awan of the Anti-Violent Crime Cell. Buriro expressed concern for his own security. The court adjourned the proceedings till Dec 1.
Mubashir Mirza, the state-appointed special public prosecutor for ATC II, headed by Judge Syed Hasan Shah Bokhari, moved a similar application. He said that because of perceived threats in phone calls from unidentified members or supporters of terrorist outfits, he could not risk his life and fight cases unless he received appropriate security and an escort.
He was scheduled to make an appearance in a case against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi activists involved in the abduction and murder of a trucker managing a fuel tanker service for Nato forces in Afghanistan. The court accepted his application, condoned his absence and adjourned the trial till Nov 20.
Buriro later told journalists that the level of threat had increased after the recent terrorist attacks in the city. Their fears were genuine, he said, giving the example of an incident at the city court in which accomplices of a terrorist organisation freed their men from police custody.
“We have raised the issue of security at all government levels, including the Home department and then with the Prosecutor General, but as no security was provided, we were left with no choice but to inform the court,” Buriro said.
For his part, Prosecutor General Sindh Shahadat Awan referred to the Mehram Ali case, considered a landmark judgment for anti-terrorism courts (ATCs).
The apex court had a detailed hearing after which a number of sections were struck down. After scrutiny of the ATC law, the court held that judges and prosecutors of ATCs shall be given security till a case is finalized up to the apex court, that is all stages and appeals exhausted, he said.
“Their demand for security is justified, they are working hard and with honesty and in view of the nature of the cases they are handling as SPPs, they should be given proper security cover,” said the PG. He has raised the problem with the Home department but the situation in the city is such that additional police force is not available.
The terrorist attack on the CID building sent across the ugly message that even the city’s top investigators, brave anti-terrorism cops such as Omer Shahid, Fayyaz Khan, Chaudhry Aslam, etc. are not safe. No wonder the lawyers are scared. But if we don’t prosecute and put the terrorists behind bars, we will be even less safe.