LJ mastermind accused of 70 murders set to go free

KARACHI: Malik Ishaq, one of the founders of the outlawed militant organisation Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, could be released on bail early next month despite a police record of at least 70 murders, according to a report in the New York Times.

Ishaq, a ‘jihadi hero,’ has used his organisation to intimidate witnesses and exploit weaknesses in Pakistan’s legal system to prevent successful convictions against him since his arrest in 1997.

Witnesses in Ishaq’s murder cases have been killed or gone missing, the newspaper says. The few who have dared to testify live in fear, including one Shia man from Multan, Fida Hussein Ghlavi, who has seen twelve of his family members murdered.

The Ghalvi family has endured eight years of court proceedings and eight more deaths in the family since they agreed to testify, but a judge in 2004 ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.

‘My life is totally constrained,’ Ghalvi told the paper. ‘I can’t even go to funerals. What have I gotten from 13 years of struggle except grief?’
The report says cases against violent militants, and murderers in general, rarely result in convictions for a number of reasons: intimidation by the criminals, a 1990 blood money law which encourages victims’ families to settle, outmoded police work, corrupt law enforcers and a weak judicial system.

Ishaq was found guilty in one of his more high-profile terror cases, a plot in which eight people were killed in an Iranian cultural centre in 1997. But a Supreme Court decision overturned the conviction.

‘It was fear,’ said the judge who issued the initial verdict, explaining the Supreme Court decision. ‘It’s as obvious as daylight.’

‘The criminal justice system is almost completely broken,’ the judge said, explaining that Ishaq had even confessed before him to the deaths at the Iranian centre, but that under Pakistani law, only written confessions can be used as evidence. ‘A revolution will be required to fix it.’

The newspaper quotes Samina Ahmed, director of the International Crisis Group in Pakistan, as saying that fair trials of radical militants like Ishaq are the only way to expose them before the public.

‘It strips away that veil of ideology,’ she said, ‘and leaves behind that naked face of a criminal.’