Karachi’s complex street crime landscape: Impunity, acquittals, and challenges

Muhammad Amin


Read In Urdu


Karachi’s complex street crime landscape: Impunity, acquittals, and challenges

Muhammad Amin


Read In Urdu

During a robbery on June 11, 2021, Zaheer Ali Shah was murdered while resisting the attackers in Karachi. He was the Director at the Usman Institute of Technology. In this high-profile case, the police arrested two suspects, but they were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

According to the court’s verdict, the police had presented insufficient evidence against the suspects. Contradictions were also found in investigative reports and witness statements, which left no choice but to release them.

Police arrested three individuals red-handed who had snatched a mobile phone from a person named Ashiq Hussain on Nishtar Road, Karachi. However, the court also acquitted the suspects.

The court mentioned in the verdict that there were contradictions in the statements of witnesses. The central witnesses and the plaintiff’s statements did not match.

In the Hussain D’Silva Garden Street, Garden Police Station, South Karachi district, six suspects robbed a citizen named Muhammad Ali of his mobile phone and cash. The police arrested all four suspects after a few days, and after an investigation, they presented a charge sheet in court.

The trial of this case continued for an extended period, after which the court concluded that there were contradictions in the statements of the prosecutor and official witness, Inspector Ahmed Nawaz, leading to the acquittal of the suspect on the grounds of reasonable doubt.

In the Zaheer Ali Shah murder case, the police relied on the confessions of the accused. However, the court did not accept the confessional statement provided by the police as testimony, as it failed to prove its validity in court proceedings.

According to the case proceedings, on June 12, New Town Police took two suspects into custody during a patrol. One of the suspects confessed to the murder of Zaheer Ali during the interrogation and also pointed out the crime scene.

Upon confession, both were formally arrested for the murder of Zaheer Ali Shah. This case continued in court for a year and nine months. On March 30, 2023, the court acquitted both suspects in the Zaheer Ali murder case based on lack of evidence.

Legal expert Advocate Abid Zaman believes that excessive pressure on investigative officers to inspect more cases negatively affects the investigations.

He explains that an investigative officer has over 1,200 cases in various forms.

According to the report of the CPLC (Citizen-Police Liaison Committee), 56,000 incidents of mobile phone snatching were reported in Karachi city in 2022. While the police statistics cite this number as 27,000, the details provided by the police themselves show that these incidents surpass 30,000.

CPLC receives complaints of kidnapping, extortion, and street crimes. Apart from collecting data, it also provides technical assistance regarding stolen or snatched vehicles.

There’s a significant disparity between the number of street crime cases reported to CPLC and those in the courts. The cases of street crimes in the courts are notably lower. In 2022, there were 1,173 cases of these incidents reported in five districts of Karachi.

Zaman believes that the lack of cases that reach the court is a delayed and convoluted judicial process, which leads to a delay in justice.

Details of Street Crime Cases

According to the judicial statistics, in 2022, 572 street crime cases were registered in the courts of District Malir, out of which 41 cases resulted in convictions for the perpetrators.

In the courts of District East, there were decisions on 395 cases of street crime, with 37 offenders being sentenced.

In the courts of District West, 142 cases of street crime were dealt with. Out of these, suspects were acquitted in 132 cases, and convictions were handed down in 10 cases.

In the courts of District Central, out of the 53 cases of street crime, punishments were given to offenders in only seven cases.

District South tops in street crimes, where 11,303 incidents of street crime were reported. Surprisingly, only 11 cases were brought to the courts there. Out of these, only one case resulted in a conviction, and the suspects in the remaining 10 cases were acquitted.

In the courts of all districts of Karachi, there are still 2,941 pending cases of street crimes. Overall, the courts have disposed of 1,173 such cases. Out of these, suspects were acquitted in 1,077 cases, and punishments could be handed down in only 96 cases. Thus, the acquittal rate for the offenders remained at 92.81 per cent.

Flaws in Police Inspections

Karachi’s police authorities admit to ‘flaws in inspections.’ Additional IG Javed Alam Odho reveals that the police have identified around 2,500 repeat offenders of street crimes involved in continuous incidents. Among them, nearly 800 suspects have been re-arrested after being released.

He states that one reason for the street criminals’ impunity is weak inspections. However, it has been observed that certain organised groups swiftly submit requests for their release on bail after their arrest. It’s as if an industry has been formed.

The Additional IG states that citizens refrain from filing cases of street crimes due to the lengthy legal process. The cumbersome court procedures lead citizens to avoid spending months navigating the courts for cases as small as a few thousand rupees for a mobile phone.

“Citizens also think they’ll need a lawyer after filing an FIR. They’ll have to pay fees as well. All of these aspects ultimately benefit the culprits.”

They have highlighted the need to simplify the judicial process for cases of street crimes. The police have sent their proposals to the Prosecutor General Sindh. There are professional individuals in the bail profession against such culprits, and lists are being prepared against them for actions to be taken.

What is the legal status of a confessional statement?

Advocate Abid Zaman explains that when the police do not have substantial evidence against a suspect, they rely on their confessional statement. When the police arrest a suspect, they immediately record their statement under Section 154.

“This statement includes details about the modus operandi, the crime scene, time, and the nature of the crime. When the suspect is presented in court, if they reiterate the previous statement without any inconsistencies, the court accepts it as admissible testimony. However, if there are contradictions in the subsequent statements, the court does not accept it as testimony.”

Zaman asserts that the importance of a statement taken during police custody diminishes. The court also considers the presented evidence. It evaluates whether the confessional statement aligns with the evidence and whether this statement substantiates the prosecution’s case. The court also considers the issue of coercion.

He cited examples like Lyari’s Uzair Baloch, MQM’s Saeed Bharam, and Chief Mama, stating that confessional statements were also taken in their cases, but the suspects were acquitted. The prosecution needs to prove that the suspect’s confessional statement matches the evidence.

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Inspector Saeed Niaz Theem, associated with Karachi Police’s Investigation Department, has been involved in inspecting several high-profile cases.

He explains that street criminals typically flee the city after committing the crime. The department needs to obtain entry permission to apprehend them from another province, which takes about four to five days. During this period, the suspect often manages to escape from there.

Saeed Theem states that CCTV footage from CCTVs proves quite helpful in apprehending street criminals. There should be an increase in the number of investigative officers to gain control over this issue because the fewer cases an investigative officer has, the better their inspection will be.

Published on 1 Sep 2023

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