And now mobs deliver justice in Pakistan

May 23rd, 2008 - 1:44 pm ICT by admin  

By Muhammad Najeeb and Zofeen T. Ebrahim
Islamabad/Karachi, May 23 (IANS) Unmindful of the illegality of their action, a growing tribe of Pakistani citizens are delivering “mob justice” - killing, burning and seriously injuring criminals on the streets. At least five bandits have lost their lives and an equal number admitted to hospitals with burns and other injuries after a spate of incidents of mob fury across the country. One dacoit was killed and another severely injured by people after they failed to decamp with valuables Tuesday from a house at Kharian, 100 km from Islamabad.

Neighbours gathered after an alarm. One of them fired at the fleeing robbers, killing one and injuring another. The third escaped.

On its part, the police “helped” out the mob by registering a case of firing against the escaped dacoit — to save those who fired on them.

This was the fourth such incident in less than 10 days in which a mob overpowered criminals and killed them or injured them badly.

“The police suffer from many flaws and they do not have the numbers in big cities and they are not empowered enough,” Rauf Hussain, a criminal law expert, told IANS.

“Such incidents are a grim reminder that (there is) virtual absence of the rule of law,” said Ehtesham Ahmed, a retired police official.

On May 11, residents of Ranchore Lines in Karachi nabbed three dacoits. After sprinkling kerosene on them, they burnt them to death. The incident was filmed by mobile telephone cameras and shown on many TV channels.

Two days later, an enraged mob killed a dacoit and injured another. This time they did not spare even the policemen - who, unlike in the first instance, tried to intervene. A policeman who was badly beaten up is still in hospital.

Another dacoit was set on fire in Lahore city last week after being caught. Lahore residents said they were only emulating their Karachi counterparts.

A meeting of the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged Pakistanis to stop killing criminals. It held the police and the lower judiciary responsible for the changes in social attitudes towards crime.

Retired police officer Ahmed warned that the system of mob justice could spread unless faith in the judicial system was quickly restored by the state.

“This trend could be used by people to settle personal scores: torching their enemies, claiming that they were robbers or burglars,” he said.

“Widespread media coverage of these events has fired up the imagination of many citizens, some of whom do not feel guilty about committing any crime.”

Many citizens are aware of the dangers.

“It’s reflective of a seriously dangerous social pattern,” fears psychologist Asha Bedar, referring to the incidents in crime-infested Karachi, a port city of about 15 million.

Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri, news editor at private TV channel Geo, likens it to a scene from Ajay Devgan’s “Gangajal”.

“I see such incidents and public determination to take law into their hands as a ‘principled thinking’ in the offing… They will take matters in their own hands and come down hard on criminals, hoarders, blackmailers and perhaps the ‘big fish’ of society at a later stage.”

Veteran journalist Ghazi Salahuddin blames the media too for this mess.

“We, in the media, focus so much on politics and on events taking place on the surface that we neglect a serious study of the state of our society. And the situation on that front is truly alarming,” he pointed out.

“While loss of faith in the police and courts is a factor, the more basic cause is the brutalisation of society,” I.A. Rehman, director of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IANS.

Rehman explains how most people wrongly seem to believe “that inhuman punishments can deter criminals”.

“We will have more of this till we are consumed by this madness.”

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