Newspaper ad about culpability of terrorists’ relatives raises eyebrows | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Newspaper ad about culpability of terrorists’ relatives raises eyebrows

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: An advertisement titled public notice and stating that close relatives of missing terrorists would be liable to prosecution, including death sentence and confiscation of properties if they failed to report their disappearance, has raised many eyebrows as legal experts believe that no such provision is available in any law available in the country.

The advertisement, which appeared in some national Urdu dailies on Friday, carried a proclamation in the form of a public notice, but nothing was mentioned therein as to which department or law enforcement agency had issued it.

The advertisement states: “In accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 and other laws related to terrorism, public at large are informed that if any member or members of their family including those non-relatives looked after by them are individually or being a member of an organisation involved, or there are apprehensions of their involvement, in any act of terrorism and are missing from their residences for that purpose, they should report it to the nearby police station or office of assistant political agent along with picture of the missing person or persons.”

“In case of failure if any terrorist was arrested in connection with an act of terrorism, including suicide bombing, or is killed then legal action will be taken against his parents, brothers or the relative who had looked after him under provisions of the above mentioned laws in which that terrorist was found involved or killed including death penalty, life imprisonment and confiscation of movable and immovable properties.”

Noor Alam Khan, advocate of the Supreme Court, said that no such provision was available in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) and even in the Protection of Pakistan Act, which made a person liable to prosecution in case he failed to report disappearance of his missing relative suspected of planning to carry out any act of terrorism. He questioned how a father or a brother could be awarded the same sentence, including death penalty or life imprisonment, for an offence committed by his son or brother, respectively, merely on the ground that he had not informed the authorities about his disappearance.

“Even the provisions of collective and territorial responsibility available in the Frontier Crimes Regulation applicable to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas do not carry such harsh conditions,” Mr Alam said, adding that apart from its legality this advertisement was also against the injunctions of Islam. He pointed out that through such advertisements the state had now been asking people to start surveillance of their close relatives, including brothers and children.

“While the law does not have any such provision of punishing parents and other relatives on their failure to report the disappearance of their relative involved in terrorism, there is a provision in the Pakistan Penal Code which has made the intentional omission to give information of an offence by person bound to inform as a penal offence, but that is only punishable with up to six month imprisonment,” said another advocate of Supreme Court, Shahnawaz Khan.

Section 202 of the PPC states: “Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, intentionally omits to give any information respecting that offence which, he is legally bound to give, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”

Mr Shahnawaz pointed out that even that section only dealt with cases when an offence was committed and someone intentionally avoided giving information regarding it. He said that under the collective responsibility clause of FCR, which is not applicable to settled areas, members of a family or even a tribe could be detained and their properties attached if the tribe or any section of the tribe or any of its members acted in hostile manner towards the state or an individual.

He stated that concepts of collective and territorial responsibilities were unconstitutional and such provisions could not be applied to the settled areas. “Even if the government introduces any amendment to existing laws in the light of the said advertisement that will be unconstitutional and illegal,” Mr Shahnawaz added.

“A few years ago around 20 family members of an outlaw, including women and children, were held under Section 21 of the FCR in Tank Frontier Region, which had turned the country into a laughing stock and had drawn widespread criticism. The present advertisement will also create a similar situation as you can’t advertise something which is not permissible under the law,” said Noor Alam, who is also chairman of an organisaion Voice of Prisoners. He said that the government should start an awareness campaign, but should not act in a manner aimed at harassing general public.