EDITORIAL: Do we need a moral police?

Women’s rights groups as well as the National Commission on the Status of Women have come out strongly against the verdict of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) that seeks to restore the primacy of Hudood laws in cases relating to the offence of zina (adultery) and qazaf (false accusation of adultery), which have a long history of abuse and injustice. The Women’s Protection Act 2006 omitted two sections of the Hudood Ordinances which, to some extent, reduced the likelihood of abuse of these laws against women accused of adultery. Their cases could now be tried under the Pakistan Penal Code, instead of exclusively under the Hudood Ordinance. However, not only did the FSC declare Sections 11, 25, 28 and 29 of the Women’s Protection Act 2006 un-Islamic and unconstitutional on the premise that the overriding effect of the Hudood Ordinances over other laws could not be taken away, it also asserted that the jurisdiction to hear appeals under any law relating to ten offences covered by the term ‘hudood’ for the purpose of Article 203 DD of the constitution lies with the FSC and not the high courts. The FSC thus gave parliament time till June 22, 2011 to make amendments to the Women’s Protection Act to restore these clauses, otherwise the court’s verdict would stand and these clauses would be considered restored. The court also directed the government to amend the Control of Narcotic Substances Act of 1997 and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to lay down a procedure for filing of appeals to the FSC instead of a high court for such offences. Certain sections in these laws, according to the FSC, constitute a violation of Article 203 DD, which empowers the FSC to examine any case relating to the enforcement of hudood heard by a lower court. All this is nothing short of an attempt at legislation by the FSC.

The FSC was created by General Ziaul Haq in 1980 in the name of Islamising the justice system. This is yet another instance that indicates how vestiges of that era continue to undermine the spirit of justice. In asserting its exclusive jurisdiction, the FSC did not take into consideration numerous cases where innocent women were implicated on false charges or survivors of rape charged with adultery while the perpetrators were allowed to go scot-free. In its order it said, “No legislative instrument can control, regulate or amend its exclusive jurisdiction which was mandated in the constitution.” Is the court not acting as a moral police over and above parliament, the judicial system and society itself? The FSC has provided parliamentarians, media and civil society an opportunity to debate the place of a religious court in a democratic, constitutionally run state. In the process of creating a parallel judicial system, a military dictatorship handed to the FSC enormous clout in the name of religion to pronounce on anything and everything under the sun. Despite the blatantly undemocratic and theocratic nature of these measures, the issue of their repeal was not taken up in the 18th and 19th Amendments to the constitution.

All the laws created to ‘Islamise’ the system deserve to be repealed on merit; these are bad laws. The whole edifice constructed on that foundation also needs to be abolished. The retrogressive and reactionary nature of, and setting itself above parliament’s will by the FSC, is the corollary of that misplaced emphasis on religion in matters of governance. This is by no means compatible with the concept of a modern democracy, which Pakistan aspires to become. It is time that the government and other democratic forces stopped soft-pedalling around the legacy of Ziaul Haq and went ahead with its repeal in toto. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: More trials for the Baloch

In a move that is slated to have far-reaching repercussions, Shahzain Bugti, the grandson of Baloch tribal leader and martyr Nawab Akbar Bugti, has been arrested by the security agencies on charges of carrying ‘illegal arms and ammunition’. Shahzain’s convoy was stopped on its return from Chaman to Quetta because the police claims it received information from the agencies about possible weapons stashed in the convoy. Shahzain and his father Talal Bugti who is the Central President of the Jamhoori Watan Party have termed the arrest a “conspiracy” as they claim that FC personnel planted the weapons to incriminate the young Bugti. Both Bugtis claim that the arrest is revenge for their uncovering corruption by high-ranking government officials and to stop Shahzain from initiating a long march all the way to Dera Bugti on January 28. Talal Bugti has called for an independent inquiry to be set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the matter. As can be seen, this arrest is a murky one with both sides implicating one another.

However, what is not murky is the situation in Balochistan. In a province that is being run as though it were a colony, bullet-riddled bodies turning up almost daily and reports of disappearances are commonplace. The victims are not extremist nationalists nor gun-wielding men from the mountains but the most inoffensive elements of society like nationalist politicians and human rights activists; all those who believe in the power of the political process. The fact that these atrocities are blamed on the ominous ‘foreign hand’ by our government lends the entire scenario a self-serving aura. The Baloch have been gravely oppressed and Shahzain’s arrest, if found to be a convenient set-up, will be further evidence that the Baloch are being pushed into a tight corner. State oppression will and is pushing them to take up their separatist cause internationally, which will cause great embarrassment to Pakistan and even provide a case for the international human rights community to become actively involved in investigating the tortures reported as being inflicted on the Baloch by the security agencies.

The Baloch problem is one of accumulated political deprivation, not terrorism. It demands a political settlement and not the iron-fist policy it has been forced to endure – Dailytimes