Monday, May 12, 2008

No progress in May 12 cases, lawyers’ killings

By S. Raza Hassan

KARACHI, May 11: With no resolution yet of the judicial crisis, little progress has been made in investigations into the May 12, 2007, violence in Karachi while the September killings of two senior lawyers have also been put into cold storage.

At least 50 people died on May 12 and although a recent report released by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) quoted victims’ families as saying that they held the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responsible, a senior police investigation officer conceded to Dawn that there had been “no progress” on the investigation.

Meanwhile, the families of lawyers Raja Riaz and Ateeq Ahmed Qadri await justice. Victims apparently of the lawyers’ movement, the senior lawyers were shot dead in separate incidents last year.

A grim chapter in the crisis that followed the ouster of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the May 12 violence was sparked off as the deposed judge was scheduled to visit the city to take part in a Sindh High Court Bar Association function. A large number of citizens, including lawyers and politicians, were prevented from reaching the airport to welcome him. Meanwhile, the MQM held a rally on M. A. Jinnah Road.

The police completed formalities by registering as many as 55 first information reports (FIRs), most of them registered by heirs of the May 12 victims but some registered by the police on behalf of the state against unknown persons.

Subsequently, a seven-member bench was constituted to hear the case and hearings were conducted during which television channels were directed to submit relevant footage before the court. However, the schedule was disrupted after the Nov 3, 2007, proclamation of emergency rule. The case was subsequently fixed for hearing before a different five-member bench, which did not include any of the judges who had formed part of the original bench.

Since then, according to a senior investigation officer contacted by Dawn, there has been “no progress”. However, the Provincial Police Officer of Sindh, Dr Shoaib Suddle, said that “the government has already said that the May 12 cases and April 9 [2008] incidents would be investigated. The police are on it”, he stated.

Targeted killings

The lack of progress on the May 12 cases is echoed by the slow pace of investigations into the deaths of lawyers Raja Mohammed Riaz and Ateeq Ahmed Qadri.

Despite a change in the provincial government and the home minister, the case of Raja Riaz remains in cold storage. The lawyer was shot dead on September 10, 2007, the day when the hearing of a case regarding the May 12 violence was scheduled to be heard at the Sindh High Court.

The 52-year-old senior lawyer was going to the Sindh High Court in a cab when he was targeted on Deen Mohammed Wafai Road by two persons on a Honda-125cc motorbike. He suffered a single bullet in the head and although the cab driver, Mohammed Aamir, drove straight to the Civil Hospital, Karachi, the lawyer was pronounced dead on arrival.

As was pointed out by the secretary of the Karachi Bar Association, Naeem Qureshi, the targeted killing took place barely half a kilometre from the SHC premises where a large number of MQM workers had started gathering to attend the hearing of the May 12 case.

“There has simply been no progress in the case of Raja Riaz,” remarked a senior police officer of the Investigation Wing, on condition of anonymity.

Advocate Amjad Iqbal, who was a close associate of the slain lawyer and pursued the case, told Dawn that “the police did not cooperate in the investigation. The basic flaw was that they did not record the statement of Khawaja Naveed.”

A week before the killing, Raja Riaz had an altercation in the bar room of the Sindh High Court with Khawaja Naveed, advocate, for Mr Waseem Akhtar who was then the adviser to the chief minister on home affairs.

Referring to this, Advocate Iqbal pointed out that “legally, taking his [Mr Naveed’s] statement was mandatory. If the police were serious about pursuing the case, all the facts and circumstantial evidence were quite obvious.”

Days after the killing of Raja Riaz, lawyer Ateeq Ahmed Qadri was shot dead near his house in Landhi No. 4. A senior member of the Karachi Bar Association, Mr Qadri was called out of his house on Sept 14, 2007, by two strangers pretending to be prospective clients.

Quoting accounts given by the area’s residents, the police said that when the 49-year-old lawyer appeared, the men opened fire on him and then walked away. The lawyer sustained six bullets on the head, face and chest and died later in hospital.

Families’ anguish

The real victims of the unresolved judicial crisis are families such as that of Raja Riaz, who left behind a widow and five children, the eldest of whom has just passed her intermediate examination.

The slain lawyer was self-made person, according to advocate Iqbal, and his family inherited little by way of resources. The government of Sindh announced a compensation of Rs600,000 for Raja Riaz’s family and a cheque was sanctioned by former caretaker chief minister Halepota but the family never got anything.

A fund created by the Sindh High Court for lawyers who suffered financially or were killed during the lawyers’ movement has similarly failed to help Raja Riaz’s family. “When he died, dozens of people came to his house to condole,” remarked a friend of the family. “Since the burial, however, none of the people who delivered such hard-hitting statements then have bothered to find out how the family is faring.”

A similar lack of progress is evident in the investigations into Ateeq Ahmed Qadri’s killing, while his family also continues to suffer in silence.

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talkhaba said...