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Dawn Editorial 26 April 2020

Model courts

MODEL courts, established for the purpose of swift disposal of cases, have awarded the death sentence — a punishment strongly opposed by this paper — to 874 people while handing down life imprisonment to 2,616 criminals during the period April 1, 2019, to March 30, 2020. These statistics are part of a one-year performance report issued by the director general of model courts of Pakistan. These forums for justice were established on the orders of the former chief justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and were aimed at reducing the massive pendency of cases in the judicial system. Burdened by repeated adjournments, it is normal for cases in Pakistan to drag on for long periods of time, sometimes up to nearly 25 years. The model courts operate without adjournments and finish murder trials within a month. Other cases are also disposed of within a short period of time. Presently, there are 442 model courts in the country across all provinces. The report issued by the director general details the number of cases completed, number of testimonies heard and a slew of other statistics that point towards significant work having been done in a year’s time.
However, concerns exist. Some lawyers and judges associated with these courts have expressed uneasiness with conducting non-stop proceedings without any adjournments. While much of this unease may be due to the added pressure that comes with daily hearings, some of it may reflect larger concerns about compromising on the quality of justice if it is rushed for procedural reasons. This is an important issue that requires close scrutiny by the superior courts. Speedy justice is fine — especially in a system like hours that sags under the weight of delays — but equally if not more important is the risk of the miscarriage of justice. This becomes all the more critical if it translates into the guilty walking free and the innocent going to prison. According to a report by a UK-based NGO that was presented to the government of Pakistan last year, more than 78pc of the death sentences handed down by the lower courts of Pakistan were overturned by the Supreme Court. In and of itself this figure is a testament to the poor quality of justice being delivered in these courts. The Supreme Court overturns many sentences usually because the prosecution case was based on faulty evidence, or the witness testimonies were unreliable or the FIRs were erroneous procedurally and otherwise.
Given such a state of affairs, rushed proceedings can generate a sense of dread. The intent behind the model courts makes eminent sense but much more needs to be done before this intent can translate into deliverable outcomes that are credible, transparent and fulfil all requirements of justice. The Supreme Court may want to monitor these courts more closely in order to inject improvements both qualitatively and quantitatively.


Local transmission

THE threat from the novel coronavirus is increasing as Pakistan’s curve rapidly follows an upward trajectory. By Saturday, the number of confirmed cases had crossed 12,500, while over 260 fatalities have been recorded since the country registered its first case in late February. Worryingly, the authorities indicated that the vast majority of cases — some 80pc — have been caused by the ‘local transmission’ of the coronavirus — a term used to describe the situation where a person who has not recently travelled overseas or come into contact with a confirmed Covid-19 patient is infected by the virus. In the initial days of the pandemic, authorities had reported a high number of confirmed cases among travellers returning from coronavirus hotspots such as Iran and the UK and had focused their efforts on isolating, testing and quarantining those individuals. Today, as evidenced by local transmission figures, that trend has changed.
The sharp increase in local transmissions is alarming and points to an unsettling reality — that the number of unconfirmed Covid-19 cases is high, and that these individuals, some of whom are asymptomatic, are infecting others as they move about in their homes, neighbourhoods, etc. The high local transmission rate follows the dangerous trend in countries like Italy and the UK, where mass community spread propelled the curve and death rate upwards, and in turn caused the virus to spread in hospitals, often affecting the medical staff. Given the country’s limited healthcare infrastructure, Pakistan simply cannot afford to allow community spread to continue. At this rate, not only will the virus sweep into hospitals and cripple the capacity of healthcare staff, it will also unleash death and misery in parts of the country which are densely populated, especially where large families reside in small homes. In these circumstances, it is imperative that both the federal and provincial governments re-evaluate the relaxation they have given to citizens after a few weeks of lockdown. The Sindh government has taken a brave and practical step by restricting congregational prayers during Ramazan. Other provinces and the federation should follow its example. As efforts are made to build up the country’s track-and-trace capacity and implement a strategy, it is unwise to relax lockdown restrictions and allow crowds to gather in markets or mosques. While allowing congregational prayers despite the Covid-19 threat, the prime minister indicated that the government may change the rules if coronavirus cases escalate. The numbers suggest that that time has come.


Blaming women

WELL-KNOWN cleric Maulana Tariq Jameel has made a disturbing assertion that Covid-19 has been unleashed on humanity because of the ‘wrongdoing of women’. During a televised prayer, the maulana condemned women for dancing and for how they dress, saying these “immodest actions” have brought the Almighty’s wrath upon the country.
These misogynistic remarks were made during the Ehsaas Telethon fundraising event, in the presence of the prime minister and top broadcast journalists.
In the same prayer, the maulana also cast aspersions on the media for “disseminating lies”, but later apologised for that particular remark on account of having “spoken too much”. No such apology was made for his offensive comments about women.
For the maulana to claim that women should be blamed for a global pandemic is not just ill-informed but also inflammatory. The statements are troubling; not only do they betray a deep-rooted misogyny, they were also aired, unchallenged, from a very high-profile platform.
This mentality is reflective of society’s unfortunate tendency to marginalise women simply because social power structures allow them to be viewed as ‘lesser beings’. The remarks also reinforce a dangerous yet normalised idea that targeting women is permissible.
The reality is that women in Pakistan, and elsewhere, face systemic discrimination and violence. During this pandemic, domestic abuse cases have soared as women are forced to stay home for extended periods with their tormentors. Despite these challenges, women strive to be recognised and shatter glass ceilings — as evidenced by the effective response of global women leaders in this pandemic.
Given that the ruling PTI is lauded for its inclusion of women in political rallies and for celebrating their lively participation, it is a shame that the maulana was not corrected when he made these offensive comments.
Later, however, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, without directly naming the maulana, rightly criticised such thinking as ludicrous and ignorant. The maulana must apologise for his unsavoury remarks, and accept that while prayers are always welcome, the nation can do without scorn and misguided views.


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