ISLAMABAD: Veiled witnesses will appear in trial courts to depose against hardened criminals, arrested during the ongoing targeted operation in Karachi, and the detention period of such offenders is being enhanced to ninety days as provided in the Constitution, under the sweeping amendments proposed to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
The Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) will try the target killers, extortionists, kidnappers for ransom and mafia members, a cabinet source, who has seen the recommended changes in the ATA.
“The witnesses will be masked to hide their identity in order to save them from being targeted by the patrons or cohorts of the under-trial criminals,” he said.
However, the source said the judges would be able to see deponents unveiled and the defence lawyers would be allowed to cross-examine them as permitted by the law.
In Abuja (Nigeria) on May 10 this year, two prosecution witnesses testified under mask against a suspected terrorist, Kabiru Umar aka Kabiru Sokoto, before a Federal High Court. Sokoto, who allegedly masterminded the 2011 Christmas Day bombing of St.
Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State was being prosecuted by the State Security Service (SSS) before Justice Adeniyi Ademola.
The two witnesses, who mounted the witness box, wore mask on their faces in order to hide their identities. They told the court how Sokoto was arrested and interrogated. In many such cases in other countries, judges sit behind a curtain to hide their identity from criminals and their gangs.
In its fervent desire to protect the victims and witnesses of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia from the [Serbian] devil, the makers of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence similarly undertook to disguise the identity of these victims and witnesses.
Thus, according to Rule 69 in exceptional circumstances, the Prosecutor may apply to a Trial Chamber to order the non-disclosure of the identity of a victim or witness who may be in danger or at risk until such a person is brought under the protection of the Tribunal. This is the first time that covered witnesses are being introduced in Pakistan in view of several instances in which they were gunned down in Karachi, resulting in the acquittal of the dangerous criminals by courts, he said.
However, hooded accused, who are considered very dreadful, are already being presented in courts with masks on their faces. Even during questioning, their faces are covered to hide the identity of the investigators.
At present, the law provides for thirty-day detention, a period, which has been suggested to be raised to 90 days in case of the arrested criminals in Karachi.
The source said the government would be satisfied if a superior court takes up the case of such a detained criminal just a few days before the expiration of the 90-day detention period. This will provide sufficient time to the investigators to question the accused.