EDITORIAL: Two cases were heard in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on September 7, 2020, which have a grave bearing on the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to life. First, IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Athar Minallah, while hearing a habeas corpus petition seeking the recovery of Securities and Exchange Commission official Sajid Gondal, expressed serious concern at the rising number of enforced disappearances in the federal capital. He directed the interior secretary to brief the prime minister and federal cabinet on the issue. CJ Minallah expressed his despairing view that if the state and the courts cannot protect the right to life of a citizen, there is no reason for them to continue in existence. The interior secretary had informed the court that Sajid Gondal had proved untraceable by the two police teams assigned to the case. The IHC had on September 5, 2020 summoned federal government high-ups, but on their appearance on September 7, 2020, they were unable to give the court a satisfactory explanation regarding their failure to trace Gondal. The court responded with serious strictures against the officials, stating that they do not seem to appreciate the gravity of the alleged offence and its consequences for the loved ones of the disappeared as well as the general public. What was shocking for CJ Minallah was that the offence occurred in the federal capital, a city that houses all the topmost offices and residences of the apex power structure. He also observed that the court had been inundated in the recent past with petitions alleging the abduction of citizens. Connected petitions revealed that ministries, agencies and other state organs were involved in illegal real estate business. This exponential increase of complaints/grievances, the CJ remarked, exposes the abysmal state of governance, lack of rule of law and impunity against serious crime. Failure to trace the whereabouts of allegedly abducted persons had become the norm. In fact, the CJ asked, has even a single abductee been recovered or information gleaned of his whereabouts? And yet there is no accountability of the organs of state responsible for upholding the rule of law and constitutional rights. Mercifully, Gondal was released by his abductors on late evening of Tuesday 8th September; and he safely reached his home. Gondal owes his reprieve in substantial measure to the strong view taken by CJ Minallah in the matter of his abduction.
In a similar vein, IHC Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani summoned Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, the interior secretary and the Attorney General on September 16, 2020 in the case of Abdul Quddus, reported missing since January 1, 2020. The SP Investigation revealed before the court that he had been heading the joint investigation teams in the cases of 50 people missing from Islamabad. Needless to say, none of them has been recovered. Justice Kayani lamented that now even green number plates (official) vehicles are being used in acts of abductions.
It is heartening to note the IHC has strongly criticized the federal authorities for their failure to act on the growing number of cases of abductions and missing persons from Islamabad. If the federal capital is unsafe for citizens, what hope for the rest of the country? Journalist Matiullah Jan escaped soon after his abduction in Islamabad in broad daylight only because the incident was captured and distributed on social media. The growing pressure as a result persuaded his captors that letting him go was the better option. Not many amongst the disappeared have been so lucky. Thousands have been reported subjected to enforced disappearance, starting from Balochistan and then slowly but surely spreading to all parts of the country. The Commission on Enforced Disappearances (CED) has all but 'disappeared' itself without bringing hope or succour to the loved ones of those who suffered enforced disappearance. All the talk of constitutional rights and the rule of law, and the state institutions charged with upholding them, seem helpless before these draconian practices of the deep state. The latter has been emboldened to carry on in the same vein even in the federal capital because of the impunity it enjoys from accountability and the track record of getting away with this heinous practice in the rest of the country for many years. It is high time the CED was either disbanded or heads rolled to make it effective rather than the perception of it being little else than a 'cover up' for the hanky-panky on enforced disappearances that has become part of the warp and woof of our lives. The judiciary must be lauded for continuing to ask piercing questions on the issue from those responsible for the elimination of such draconian, high handed, abhorrent actions.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020