Misuse of antiterrorism law.


Byline: I.A. Rehman

LAST week's Supreme Court verdict has laid down the urgently needed guidelines on the applicability or otherwise of the antiterrorism law and asked parliament to make some essential changes to it. The judgement also offers much food for thought to jurists, students of law and civil society who interpret the rule of law as a rational, just and humanitarian dispensation.

The issue before the court was whether the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was rightly being invoked.

The landmark judgement begins with a fairly comprehensive account of terrorist movements and activities across the globe from 2 BC to the 1990s, launched to secure political, ideological or religious objectives. Students of terrorism will find it useful. The court then refers approvingly to Prof David Rapoport's theory of four waves of terrorist movements, to emphasise the point that terrorists' goals have been changing with time. An extract from Yuval Noah Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century follows, which reassures us that the people can defeat terrorists if they do not overreact to the theatre of terrorism and offer a balanced response.

While discussing the various interpretations of the ATA by different courts and its application in cases that do not qualify as terrorism, the court recalls a Lahore High Court judgement by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa which deals with the same subject. An analysis of 40 cases decided by the Supreme Court between 1998 and 2018 shows these cases did not fall within the revised definition of terrorism but were all treated as cases of terrorist acts or terrorism on the basis of presumption and speculation about the effect of the relevant actions. These cases, decided at the apex court level, offer a measure of the wrong application of the ATA which could be taken as misuse of the law by the police officers who drew up the charges.

The judgement promises a reduction in the misuse of the ATA by a predatory executive.

The court's conclusion and direction that all actions must be judged by the objective as defined in the ATA - that an action, however grave, gruesome or horrifying, cannot be termed as terrorism if it is not committed with the design and purpose as mentioned in the law itself, and that actions taken in furtherance of personal enmity or private vendetta cannot be described as terrorism -should prevent wrongful application of the ATA.

The court has suggested that the definition of terrorism in the ATA may be made simpler...

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