Pak Punjab province worried over shockingly high ratio of terror suspect acquittals
The Punjab government has decided to hold a monthly review of the performance of all prosecutors attached with Anti-Terrorism Courts following a revelation that an extraordinarily high number of the accused in terrorism and kidnapping for ransom cases have been acquitted.
The 14 ATCs of Punjab have acquitted people facing terrorism charges in 370 cases over the past 11 months, reports The Dawn.
Acquittals in 255 cases were put down to backtracking by witnesses on statements they had earlier recorded before investigation officers. In the remaining cases, the acquittals were due to lack of evidence or poor investigation.
According to data compiled by the Punjab prosecution department, in January there were 346 cases pending in ATCs across the province. During the year, 669 new cases, related to bomb blasts, acts of terrorism, kidnappings for ransom and possession of explosives, were instituted.
Punjab Prosecutor General Sadaqat Ali Khan said most of the acquittals had taken place because of witnesses having backtracked on their statements.
Islamabad police's Special Prosecutor Syed Mohammad Tayyab said the "witnesses do so under fear, because a compromise is reached or because of pressure from relatives".
He said a compromise was not allowed in cases of kidnapping for ransom. In such situations the aggrieved party simply backtracked on its statement instead of withdrawing the complaint, leaving the court with no option other than to acquit the accused.
In terrorism cases, however, mostly fear forces witnesses to backtrack.
The larger problem, experts say, is absence of investigative and forensics skills and equipment, due to which prosecution in most cases is based on testimonies.
"We have decided to record the witnesses' statements under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Thus the statements will be recorded under oath by a magistrate.
It will not be possible for a witness to retract his statement recorded under this section and in such a case the magistrate can testify to the statement," he said.