Getting away with murder

  • The case once again is rendered ‘unsolved’


The accused in the Sahiwal shooting, in which the Counter-Terrorism Department officials were accused of having shot an entire family in cold blood, have been acquitted by a Lahore court. The accused have been given the benefit of doubt, a doubt created by two major lacunae: the failure of any of the survivors, who were also minor children, to identify the accused, and because the ballistic evidence showed that an official claimed that the weapons issued to the accused had been returned, and that all bullets had been accounted for. Yet, as was observed in the judgement, the medical evidence, while it may have shown that the victims had been shot, it did not show who had shot them.

It should be observed that the court could only decide according to the evidence adduced by the prosecution and defence. It could only be as just as the case made before it. If the ballistic evidence had been muddled, rather than the court, the investigating agency, the police, is to blame, not the court. In this case, it was not incompetence at work, but rather the desire to ensure that policemen were acquitted. It was also allowed as a sop to public opinion for the trial to have taken place, in a case where the murders by police personnel had been captured on video. That is shown by the fact that the January 19 incident has been decided by the initial trial court the same year.

The federal government has directed the Punjab government to appeal the result. That may be a little like asking, as the Urdu saying foes, to ask the cat to guard scraps of meat. After all, the accused are Punjab government employees, and it is possible that the case may be botched. It should be noted that the acquittals mean that the case is once again on the books of the police as an unsolved crime. The Punjab government must ensure that there is a proper investigation this time, because those with even a passing acquaintance of the criminal law know, getting a trial court’s decision reversed is very difficult. That may well be the greatest reason to celebrate for the accused in the case.