SC warns against use of Anti Terrorism Act over ‘non-terrorist actions’


Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has cautioned the lower courts to keep ordinary crimes from being pushed into the grey area of terrorism-related cases. “The courts of law shall not lightly ignore that being a harsh law enacted to punish terrorist or hardcore militant, the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 will not be extended liberally to cover criminals who commit the crime of murder or attempted murder for any reason or motive that has no connection with terrorism or militancy,” explained a 22-page judgement authored by Justice Dost Mohammad Khan.

Justice Khan was part of a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, which had taken up an appeal against a May 20, 2009 Lahore High Court verdict dismissing the appeals of six individuals who were convicted of perpetrating a heinous bloodbath on April 24, 2001.

The incident occurred in Chatha police precincts, in the village of Behroop Garh in Gujranwala, where four persons — Nazir Ahmed, Mohammad Saleem, Ghulam Abbas and nine-year-old Sumbal — were killed and nine people, including three children, were seriously wounded.

Police had later added Sections 6 and 7(a) of the ATA, in addition to charges under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), so that the accused could be tried under the anti-terror law.

Bringing the crime of murder within the ambit of the ATA at random will deprive the legal heirs of the deceased from availing Qisas and Diyat.

In the event of a conviction under the ATA provisions, the fine imposed on the perpetrators went to the public exchequer, defeating the rights recognised by Islamic injunctions for no justifiable reason, the verdict argued.

These rights, Justice Khan wrote, were personal rights of the legal heirs of the deceased person or the victims, which should not be disturbed or taken away by including provisions of the ATA.

When crimes such as murder, attempted murder and theft were not included in the scheme of the ATA, such crimes should not come within the ambit of the ATA if there was no element of terrorism involved, Justice Khan asserted.

Under certain circumstances, the judgement said, if these offences were committed by individuals after a sudden flare up in a public place and the reason for such a fight was concealed by both parties, such an altercation also could not fall within the definition of terrorism.

“Therefore, the courts should not hurriedly jump to the conclusion that such offences are acts of terrorism and shall not forcibly bring them within the ambit of the provisions of ATA,” the judgement said.

If the legislature intended to bring such crimes within the ambit of ATA, it would have not employed the word “terrorism” or “terrorist activities”.

The comprehensive list of terrorism-related offences against the public, places of worship and educational institutions, offences against law enforcement agencies, and the armed forces clearly represented the intent of those who made the law, the verdict noted.

“Even though ordinary crime can have a devastating, gruesome and heart-rending effect on human beings, this by itself should not be reason enough to bring the crime within the fold of terrorism or to attract the provisions of sections 6 and 7 of the ATA,” the verdict said. Dawn