Busiest anti-terrorism courts of Pakistan lack storage space for evidence

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Karachi: The country’s busiest anti-terrorism courts do not have a designated space for storing evidence, officials told News Lens Pakistan.

“The investigation officers have to carry heavy files and case properties that often include explosives and large sums of money from the police station after every hearing,” said a court official Mohammad Nasir. “This not only wastes time but also puts them at risk of being robbed or killed if they mishandle the evidence,” he added.

Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed told News Lens Pakistan, “The anti-terrorism courts were set up in 1998 after the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 developed for swift disposal of cases pertaining to heinous crimes. But since then the courts have been working without a proper evidence garage also called a Maalkhana.”

Ahmed further said that storage of evidence was important because if, at any time, the verdict was revised or repealed or the investigation began anew, the state of evidence might make or break the case for the prosecution.

“Earlier this month, a new joint investigation team was set up by the home department to reinvestigate a factory fire that resulted in the death of more than 250 people in Baldia Town of Karachi. The team will revisit all the evidence and then decide the course of investigation. Suppose if anyone tampers with the documents, it will affect the whole direction of investigation,” Ahmed told News Lens Pakistan.

A visit to the anti-terrorism courts premises, situated in an old building which used to be a rest house of the old Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, revealed more surprises. The whole premises of anti-terrorism courts are littered with old and rusty cars that are or were important case properties.

The silver Corolla of notorious Shahrukh Jatoi, who murdered a young man Shahzeb who was travelling home from his sister’s wedding in December 2012, is parked right next to the entrance. Next to it is Shahzeb’s blue Vitz with the bullet holes growing bigger after getting rusted.

Moreover, next to Shahbaz’s car is the black and yellow cab whose driver was shot dead by Rangers personnel in Gulistan-e-Jauhar when he was driving home in July 2013. The taxi driver was travelling with his four-year-old son and missed the signal of Rangers men who immediately opened fire on his vehicle.

A Special Public Prosecutor told News Lens Pakistan that these and other important case properties lay in the open exposed to thievery and deterioration by the weather.

He further said that besides the risk of mischief, these cars also put the lives of those working in anti-terrorism courts at risk. “They can be an ideal place to plant bombs. No one would think of giving these rotten cars a second look. Therefore, we have written to the home department again and again to set up a Maalkhana here,” he added.

It can easily be built at the empty plot that is occupied by the cars dumped here by the government. “The home department keeps telling us they will do it soon but it has been two years since their last promise,” Special Public Prosecutor said.

Since September 2013, Rangers and Sindh Police have been conducting a targeted operation against criminals in Karachi. Raids and arrests are made every day and the anti-terrorism courts have never been busier.

Meanwhile, the Special Courts Control of Narcotic Substances (I and II) was set up in 2000 and 2003, respectively. They have also been functioning without a Maalkhana. The police officials, customs, anti-narcotics force and coast guards have to take the seized drugs back and forth their offices and the courts for every hearing.

Recently, a cracker bomb exploded near the city courts while evidence was being shifted from one place to another. “It prompted the authorities to at least repair the roof which had been broken down for a number of years,” said a member of the Karachi Bar Association Khalid Mumtaz. He added that this was not the first incident of evidence exploding in the hands of court officials.

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