Over 100 days since May 9, but no respite for women prisoners


Over 100 days since May 9, but no respite for women prisoners

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The numbers aren’t confirmed. Even senior members of the political party primarily affected by the imprisonments-- that have now gone beyond 100 days-- are unable to put a number on the women arrested on May 9 charges. Senior lawyers and lawmakers are clueless, and it is assumed that the total numbers of arrested party workers could be in the many thousands.

According to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer in Lahore, the Punjab government referred to 5,000 cases which included those arrested, released or sentenced. In addition to PTI’s own sources which includes Insaaf lawyers forum, local activists and local MPAs who share differing figures, PTI lawyers maintain they have asked the courts and the ‘system.” It’s a blind alley.

Therefore, there is no official number for how many women were arrested by the police on charges of attacking armed forces’ symbols and installations on that fateful day.

For several reasons, the incidents have emerged as a watershed in Pakistan’s political history and its generally turbulent civil-military relations. May 9 was an abnormal occurrence. In three ways it particularly stood out. One: Never before have civilians attacked Pakistan military’s symbols and installations in a coordinated way across cities. There have always been individual and isolated attacks on military officers and their vehicles by agitated civilians or militants attacking army personnel, buildings, headquarters, air bases or installations.

Two, never have such huge numbers of civilians been arrested from across the country by police with the oversight of military agencies.

Three, never before has there been a question of trying such a huge number of civilians in military courts as opposed to regular courts or anti-terrorism courts run by civilians.

Justice must be served of course, and the rule of law must be upheld... but not without credibility and transparency.

Nasim Zehra

While the debate around the government and the institutional response to those allegedly involved in the May 9 attacks continues, court matters have been exceptionally tough for the imprisoned women of PTI.

On August 30, five women including cancer survivor Dr. Yasmin Rashid were brought for a bail hearing before an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) judge. Yet, not only were the women denied bail contrary to normal legal practice and criminal code provisions, the ATC judge conceded to the prosecution’s request for a second physical remand.

The prosecution pleaded for additional physical remand for the further interrogation of the women since a new section was recently included in the previous FIR, which included sedition and conspiracy charges. While no new evidence appears to have surfaced against these women in a subsequent  hearing, reportedly the prosecution mentioned the availability of new video recordings which implicated the prisoners in the May 9 attacks.

Beyond the legal questions, the women and the 77 men presented before the ATC judge were retained in court for around 11 hours, without food and water, their lawyer has claimed on the record.

Hoping to get bail and time out of jail after remaining imprisoned for over 100 days, they were met with nothing. Even worse, on their return to their prison cells late that night, their lawyer claimed they were given no dinner.

Bail matters have deliberately been stalled. Six times the womens’ cases were fixed for bail but adjourned without a hearing every time.

This fresh inclusion of new charges and a repeat of the physical remand means that these women cannot apply for bail any time soon. Those on physical remand are not entitled to bail petitions. Fresh charges require processing bail applications from scratch.

Buying time, keeping the women behind bars is normally the outcome. And all this pushes nearly into oblivion Article 497(3) of the criminal code which entitles women to get bail relatively easily. 

According to this article ‘infirm women have a special place in law where it comes to imprisonment and incarceration.” There are SC judgements, especially Justice Asif Khosa’s 2016-17 judgement.

But not in this case. FIRs against Dr.Yasmin Rashid, charging her reportedly for attacking the police and burning Askari towers after she was arrested, tell another story.

Justice must be served of course, and the rule of law must be upheld... but not without credibility and transparency.

The idea is to prevent bail, prevent them from coming out, so the fear, the shock and awe is sustained.

In the last few hours, a PTI lawyer claims his clients who were let off on bail have received a call-up notice. All those receiving these notices must now cooperate in further ‘investigation’ that will be conducted.  Punjab police has informed hundreds of his clients on bail that it has found new evidence requiring further investigation.

What evidence, though? This remains unclear. Pointing to new videos now, after over 100 days of a highly-securitized investigation is intriguing.

These tactics are seen as effective ways to counter continued PTI support among large segments of society indicated in KP province’s local bodies’ by-elections last month where PTI was in the lead.

Addressing the May 9 saga has indeed gone beyond the bounds of the law. This much is evident from the state of the women still in prison, separated from their children and families, with over a hundred days already gone by.

- Nasim Zehra is an author, analyst and national security expert. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view