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Ordeal of an Ahmadi in Pakistan who is Targeted under Country's Anti-Ahmadiyya Laws
Since the promulgation of the notorious Anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance in 1984, which now has become a part of the Constitution as 8th Amendment, 2,791 Ahmadis have been booked under provisions of various religious persecutory laws. Of these, many cases have been decided, while the remaining are under process in courts. Registration of such a case, arrest of the accused, his release on bail and the trial process is such an agony, even torture of a special kind, that most people are unaware or would find it hard to imagine. The law does provide for the possibility of release on bail but its procedure is made so exacting and painful for Ahmadis cited in religious cases that its brief description would be informative and worth while.
A criminal case can be initiated with the police simply by writing on a plain piece of paper a baseless story involving one or more Ahmadis. It is common practice to name many, as that way more Ahmadis can be victimized with the same effort. The police at this stage shows little concern with the facts of the case, and little effort is made to ascertain if the complaint is just, valid or even credible. An FIR (First Information Report) is registered by the police quoting the complaint. As soon as the victim comes to know of the FIR, he goes into hiding so that he may try to avoid arrest through Bail before Arrest. Thus the first casualty of the target is his loss of security and comfort of home.
The victim can proceed only if he can have a copy of the FIR, which is quite a hurdle for him. The police are reluctant to provide the copy to his friend, as they would like to arrest the accused to deprive him of the opportunity to seek bail before arrest. FIR is made available to his family or friend on illegal gratification. Now, for each accused, a person has to be found to stand surety. This person must own some property within the area of jurisdiction of the court. The next problem is to obtain a fresh certificate of possession of the agricultural land, as the courts normally do not accept old deeds. The accused has therefore to look for the area Patwari (Revenue Clerk) who does not have a regular office. It may take couple of days to finally locate him. He issues a possession certificate after charging the government fee and the inescapable personal fee. Now the victim/victims have to find an advocate who would prepare the needed appeal for bail. Bail applications along with other necessary documentation have to be taken to the court's premises before the opening hour to deposit them in the box. It is essential that the accused, their sureties, advocates and testifiers, all be personally present in the court. If there are ten accused, the whole defense team may comprise thirty persons. As Bail before Arrest application has normally to be made in the Session Court; all these people have to be transported to the district or Tehsil headquarters. This costs money and requires management. The Sessions Judge hears the case and gives his verdict. Then copy of the verdict is made available the same day or the next day and the whole group then has to present itself to the local court where necessary paper formalities have to be undertaken. This may take another day.
The sessions judge normally grants bail provisionally subject to confirmation after seven days. During this period, the accused are required to help with the investigation at the police office. The police officer may take many days to conduct his inquiry. He is a busy man and is not readily available. He has to be persuaded in the usual way to complete his inquiry in time, as it is essential that before the confirmation of the bail this process is completed.
For confirmation of the bail, the accused and the advocates must again present themselves at the court. The police are asked to put up its inquiry report and other records. The official attorney is also sent for. Generally, the poor accused has to make the transportation arrangement for the police officer to ensure his presence there. It is often that in Ahmadiyya cases the state attorney opposes the bail request. Anyway, the judge may confirm or reject the bail. In case of rejection the procedure for Bail after Arrest is initiated, while the police immediately arrests the victim.
Often, the accused or his family has to arrange transport for the police and the accused for travel to the police lock-up. They also arrange for food and bedding of the accused for as long as he is in the lock-up. This is a very demanding duty, as it has to be performed regularly, day after day. As the family is concerned about their afflicted member, they attend to his needs even if they have to keep the police happy by other means, which is often the case.
In addition to these problems, the court procedure for Bail after Arrest has to be attended to. A copy of the judge's order is obtained through the advocates. A decision may be written by the judge days after the verbal decision and it may take his office another 2 or 3 days to provide a copy.
Now the next stage begins and a new deal has to be made with the advocate for fees to be paid. Once that is settled, the advocate prepares a new petition to be put up to the magistrate. The police ask the court for physical remand of the accused for up to 14 days- the longer, the better for the police, who would like to put the accused to as much trouble as possible, as that way they hope to be better remunerated by the victim's family. The accused has to remain in the lock-up during this period and is subjected to inquiry. During the inquiry, the use of mental and physical torture is a routine methodology. On many an occasion, the accused face beating and physical harm even within premises of court. Murders have also taken place while in police custody.
A date is fixed for hearing. The state attorneys try to prolong the date. The magistrates sometimes demand two persons as surety for each accused. Sometimes cash has to be deposited as surety. It is not uncommon that on the given date, the police or the state attorney is unable to present the case, so a fresh date is given. This prolongs the detention period of the accused, and it suits the police. It happens often that on the date of hearing of an Ahmadi's bail application, mullas arrive in the court area accompanied by a crowd who act viciously to intimidate the magistrate. The press joins in and presents a malicious picture making it difficult for the judicial officer to grant release on bail. A fresh date for hearing, normally two weeks later, may be announced.
If the magistrate rejects the bail application one has to go through all the above procedure again to seek relief at the Session Court. There is no compulsion of time limit within which decision must be given. The victim has to suffer in the inhuman conditions of detention cells during this period. If there were no room in the judicial lock-up, the accused would be shifted to the district prison. As this prison is usually at a greater distance, the logistic support to the accused becomes that much more problematic. Although the prison administration is supposed to provide food, it is generally not fit for safe human consumption. Furthermore, prison authorities have to be tipped to permit contact with and support to the detainee.
More often than not, the accused is the only breadwinner of the family. His detention puts severe restraints on family income. His trial and support cost lot of money and effort to the family. Emotional strain may be unbearable.
There is a tendency to apply freely the Blasphemy clause PPC 295C to Ahmadis, for effect. So the bail is usually rejected by session judges, and the case goes to the High Court. High Courts in Pakistan are very busy courts and long delays and postponements are often involved in cases before them. It may take months before the High Court takes notice. The accused needs more competent defense at High Court level, so it costs more. Travel and hotel expenses at the provincial capital mount for the advocates. Each appearance demands more time and effort. The tension mounts further. It is not easy to imagine the mental agony of the accused at this stage. He may start losing hope. Depression may set it. High Courts may reject the application for reasons best known to them. Religious terrorism and threats of mullas often make their ugly appearance in courts.
If a case is rejected by the High Court, authorities and prison officials become still more difficult to please. Every functionary at the prison expects greater gratification to make even small concessions. If the case is taken up at the Supreme Court, the victim requires a new legal team of still higher caliber at higher costs. The Supreme Court may decide that a bench hears the application. It may take ages for a bench to be formed. Then the bench takes its own time to give a date for hearing. Then, of course, they may take their time to announce a verdict. The four Ahmadis accused from Mianwali remained in prison for over four years-no trial, no bail. Their bail application was lying with the Supreme Court for twenty one months. This is indeed a quagmire. How the involved innocent Ahmadis feel in it, only they know.