AFTER a considerable time, organ trafficking is once again in the spotlight, illustrating the fact that any laxity on the part of the criminal justice system provides a lifeline to this racket.
The daughter of well-known comedian Umar Sharif died on Monday evening from complications resulting allegedly from an illegal kidney transplant.
Acting on a written complaint by the victim’s brother, the next day a joint team of the FIA and the Human Organ Transplant Authority raided the residence of the surgeon accused of carrying out the operation, Dr Fawad Mumtaz.
The doctor however, had already absconded in order to evade arrest.
The case is typical of how the illegal organ trade has adapted to increased vigilance against it by law-enforcement authorities in the last few years.
Apparently the patient was not operated on in Lahore where the surgeon has his practice — that too in one of the city’s foremost government hospitals — but in Azad Jammu & Kashmir.
Until recently, most illegal transplants took place in Punjab.
But in the wake of raids carried out by the FIA since 2017 that busted several organ trafficking rings, the theatre of operations has — quite literally — moved into KP and beyond.
There was never any doubt that unscrupulous individuals would try to find ways to keep this lucrative racket alive; only a consistent and unrelenting drive against it could have prevented them from succeeding.
What has transpired in the present case indicates we are nowhere close to that.
Dr Fawad was implicated in the very first case registered by the FIA Lahore after organ trafficking was included in the agency’s schedule, and under circumstances that should have made it an open-and-shut case.
Instead, a shockingly lax criminal justice system has apparently enabled, and emboldened, the surgeon to resume the illegal practice.
According to the organ transplantation law, a conviction for playing any role in this racket carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
It also stipulates that registered medical practitioners found guilty of the crime for the first time will see their licences suspended for three years; subsequent conviction will result in permanent loss of licence.
The courts must show no leniency towards those charged with the crime, and law enforcement should work to anticipate the various ploys that trafficking rings use to stay a step ahead.
Pakistan must never regain the shameful reputation of being a thriving market for vended organs.
‘Fit for trial’
ON Sunday, the lifeless body of journalist Aziz Memon was retrieved from an irrigation channel in Mehrabpur in Naushahro Feroze district. Faithful to his professional duty of holding the powerful accountable, he naturally ruffled feathers through his reporting for the Sindhi-language Daily Kawish and TV channel KTN. Now he has been killed, potentially in retaliation for his work. Prior to his murder, the visibly rattled journalist released a video in which he spoke of the ordeal he and his family were put through since reporting on allegations that crowds had been paid to attend rallies during the PPP’s train march in 2019. He said that he had travelled to Islamabad in order to meet with PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and implore him to take notice of the threats he was allegedly receiving from officials, who were making his life “a living hell”. In the video recording, he stated plainly: “I am neutral. I have no connection to any political party… I am merely a journalist.”
Sadly, the culture of impunity for attacks against journalists continues unabated as the list of unsolved murder cases piles up. According to a report by Freedom Network, 33 Pakistani journalists were murdered in the line of duty between 2013 and 2019. Out of these, only 60pc of cases were deemed ‘fit for trail’ by the courts, while only 18pc went on to trial. In a press conference yesterday, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that his party condemned Aziz Memon’s murder “in the strongest terms possible”. Sindh’s ruling party must ensure an impartial and thorough investigation, especially since allegations have been raised against some of its own members. One can only hope his family receives justice, as far too many others have not. These silenced journalists include Hayatullah Khan, Irshad Mastoi, Javed Naseer Rind, Janullah Hashimzada, Mohammad Khan Sasoli and Saleem Shahzad. The journalist community and the state must never forget the names of the fallen — their families will not be at peace until justice is served.
A welcome invitation
BETTER sense has thankfully prevailed, with Prime Minister Imran Khan calling for broader consultation with all stakeholders on the controversial Citizens Protection (Against Online Harassment) Rules, 2020. Though this concession has come after widespread criticism by international media bodies, technology and business firms, rights groups and social media users alike, it is nonetheless a positive step, especially in the face of considerable misrepresentation of facts by some federal ministers about the purpose and efficacy of the new rules. It is hoped that the consultation process is not just a mere formality, and that subsequent recommendations are genuinely considered and incorporated into any new policy, rules or legislation governing online spaces — unlike the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, by the PML-N government, in which almost all suggestions made by the stakeholders were discarded.
In fact, it is the deeply-flawed Peca — which is often frivolously put to use to silence dissent — that the government claimed provided the legal grounds for this set of rules, which was quietly approved by the cabinet last month. If the government is truly committed to holding a consultation process in good faith, this would prove an opportune moment for it to open up discussion on revisiting Peca, in order to introduce amendments to address its many shortcomings and safeguard citizens’ personal rights. Section 37, for example, which defines unlawful online content in the vaguest of terms, has allowed for the widespread and arbitrary removal of social media content as well as blocking of entire websites, while Section 20 concerning the dignity of persons has been misused to silence criticism of government institutions and ministers. Other aspects of the law, which give extensive and virtually unchecked powers to law-enforcement agencies to obtain internet users’ data and block any content, also need to be revised. Another pressing issue that should be addressed during this process is the matter of personal data protection — or rather, the current lack thereof. There is a dire need for legislation that safeguards the personal information and privacy of Pakistanis. Besides threatening citizens’ fundamental rights and risking their digital safety, the ill-conceived social media policy has other serious implications. Contrary to Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s claims, according to the Asia Internet Coalition, “these rules would severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy”, thus also jeopardising the prime minister’s own Digital Pakistan campaign launched in December.
From where things stand, the inclination for the PTI government to manufacture a singular public narrative to its liking might be a strong one. But attempting to do so will only frustrate them even more, while in the process alienating its urban middle class support base, as well as having serious long-term repercussions for an economy in desperate need of modernisation. However, it is not too late. There is still time to turn things around.