Fair Trial bill sounds fair
On December 20, 2012, Pakistanís National Assembly passed a fair trial legislative bill, authorising the state to intercept private communications to identify and apprehend terrorists, and consequently officially or legally pave the way for the government to tap phones and use text messages and emails as evidence in courts.
With this, the concerned authorities can now intercept emails, SMS, internet protocol detail record. It, indeed, has the right to call detail record and any form of computer or mobile phone-based communication.
However, the existing laws neither comprehensively provide for, nor specifically regulate the use of advanced and modern investigative techniques such as covert surveillance and human intelligence and property interference, that are used extensively in other countries, including the US, the UK and India.
The bill will enable the security agencies to gather evidence against terrorists through modern techniques and devices, and make it acceptable to the courts for bringing them to justice.
Of course, human rights workers have reservations about the measure, fearing that it may breach the privacy of citizens by eavesdropping on their conversations through wire-tapping and intercepting their emails and SMS messages.
The opposition, too, had apprehensions about the misuse of the measure by concerned officials against it. So it has sought to allay them through dozens of amendments to the legislative bill originally proposed by the government, since compromises have to be made for a greater national cause.
Having said that, terrorists use modern technologies to plan and attack their targets. Therefore, it was essential that the state investigators and prosecutors should have access to all the modern techniques and methods in order to track them down and bring up enough evidence to have them punished by the courts.
It is precisely for this reason that India and several other countries, and even the US, where the citizens are very sensitive about civil liberties and political freedoms, have such laws on the statute book.
Against this backdrop, the security agencies of Pakistan have been constantly complaining that terrorists, or those suspected of terrorism, are let off the hook by the courts due to lack of evidence.
The problem is many witnesses fear the task of testifying against them and their sympathisers. Even the investigators shy away from collecting the hard evidence for the fear of their own and their familiesí lives.
Coping up with such a multifaceted terrorism of huge dimensions certainly requires extraordinary measures. And this enactment of the National Assembly certainly is a necessary step in that direction. Its authors have tried to preclude its misuse by declaring it an offence carrying a punishment of three years of imprisonment.
No law, in any case, is perfect. It indeed is a process, which keeps undergoing changes and improvements to be perfect. If some flaw is detected in its working, this enactment can be rectified. Or if the need is felt to further tighten it up, that too can and should be done. Moreover, the superior courts should encourage the anti-terrorism courts not to release the terrorists out of fear.
No one in his right mind would support terrorism or condone the killing of Pakistanis. It is the responsibility of the civilian and military leadership to protect the people as well as the stateís sovereignty; and we, as individuals, as a nation, must whole-heartedly support them.