Almost half of the 559 cases that were decided last year by anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan’s most populous province Punjab had to be dismissed and the accused acquitted because the witnesses recanted,according to ma media report today.
As many as 271 cases were dismissed while convictions were secured in 145 cases,according to official figures cited by The Express Tribune.
A total of 414 cases ended in the acquittal of the accused,while the suspects in 124 cases were acquitted on merits of the case and the parties reached a compromise in m19 cases.
Asked to explain how a compromise could be reached with parties charged or convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act as the crimes committed are against the state,Punjab’s Chief Prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammad Jahangir said there were instances in which complainants were private parties and not the state. Such cases are usually registered under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (related to murder) along with section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act.
When complainants reach a compromise with the accused,m the courts let the accused go,taking the view that the main offence was under the PPC,said Jahangir.
Deputy Prosecutor General Khurram Khan attributed the large number of witnesses recanting to “fear,threats and out of court settlements”. Though he said that charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act mare non-compoundable,parties do compromise,especially in murder cases,he added.
“Since the court does not allow it,witnesses resile,”m Khan said. Witnesses have a high rate of recanting because of fear or threats in kidnapping for ransom cases,Khan said.
“Very few people come forward. Since we don’t have a witness protection programme,they change their statements,” he said. In high-profile cases or terrorist attacks,the police usually are the complainants.
When they are threatened,they give statements contradicting their earlier statements.
This results in concessions to or acquittal of the accused,Khan said. Nabeela Ghazanfar,spokesperson for the Punjab Police chief,said there were many flaws in the criminal justice system which caused the acquittal of terror suspects.
She said a majority of acquittals in terrorism cases were due to resiling of witnesses and the Punjab Police chief and the government were considering a witness protection programme to stop the trend.