Criminal Justice Administration And The Role Of Social Media
The other day, Islamabad Police arrested three criminals on charges of assault. One of the arrested, Usman Mirza physically/sexually assaulted two young people, while others recorded the assault on their phones. The video of the assault leaked by someone went viral on social media. Although the leaked video led to the arrest of criminals, unfortunately it also makes the young people identifiable as their distraught faces are clearly visible. Media reports indicate that perhaps this is not an isolated incident, and the culprits have been operating like an organised crime syndicate. They have been posting similar videos on TikTok for quite some time.
Both young persons had been blackmailed by these criminals for the last few months. Therefore, they must have been traumatised by the horrifying assault. As both are clearly identifiable in the leaked video that has been shared across social media, it would further their trauma. Also, since they were continuously threatened, they could not come forward and lodge a complaint.
Pakistan has ratified International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and signed Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990) that upholds the right to privacy.
Article 14(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees that “[t]he dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.” Pakistan also enacted The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) in 2016, though originally designed to tackle cyber stalking, online harassment, forgery, blasphemy, and cyberterrorism – human rights activists believe that its broader legal language has weakened the right to privacy. And this is regardless of the fact that the Act mentions penalties for criminal defamation of the privacy of a natural person. On the other hand, the Anti-rape Law 2016, amended in 2020, prohibits the disclosure of the identity of the victim, as its article 26 notes:
(1) No person shall disclose or reveal the identity of any victim or victim’s family in respect of the scheduled offences, without prior written permission of the victim or victim’s guardian where the victim is a minor or the victim’s family, as the case may be.
It also has provisions for legal aid and financial compensation, establishing a Register of sex offenders, which can be shared with court of law/law enforcing agencies, and to any person, agency, authority or segment of the society in public interest and safety.
It also provides:
(2) An opportunity of cross examining the victim shall be given to the counsel for the accused and not the accused himself, or the Court may itself put questions to the victim or any questions framed by the accused may be given to the Presiding Officer of the Court who may put such questions, as found appropriate by him, to the victim.
One also has to acknowledge that globally, rape cases are under-reported to the police and conviction rates are even lower as compared to the other crimes which deters rape victims to report rape or assault. Victims even withdraw cases as going through the legal process reignites their trauma and with little chances of conviction it does not seem worth the effort.
In Pakistan the situation is even worse and despite the passage of several laws, rape and sexual assaults are on the rise. The criminals misuse the loopholes in the laws. Implementation of these laws is very problematic as the criminal justice system is dominated by the mindset of victim blaming. Even public opinion remains divided as crimes are judged through a moral and religious lens rather than a human rights perspective.
The moral brigade includes the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who has recently justified male criminal behaviour as a response to women wearing fewer clothes. Not only women and girls, but boys are also not safe either as it has been apparent from many recent incidents. After every crime there is a kneejerk reaction till the next crime makes headlines, and in between hundreds of crimes are committed that remain unregistered.
Whether we like it or not, keyboard activists and warriors are doing their part in pressurising the authorities to arrest the criminals. Meanwhile the cases linger in the courts and the victims remain traumatised. One can argue that the activists do not adhere to any code of conduct which inadvertently identifies the victims. For instance, the video of Usman Mirza’s sexual and physical assault shared on twitter, Facebook and YouTube did not blur the faces of the young persons under attack, which is a criminal offence under Anti-rape laws. Both young persons need support rather than moral judgement as the leaked videos have taken away the dignity they deserve as human beings. One can only hope that this time the victims get justice and criminals face the full force of the law amended with much fanfare.
Tahmina Rashid, PhD is an Associate Professor Global Studies. She is the Discipline Lead of Global Studies at the School of Arts and Communication, University of Canberra. Her current research can be accessed here. https://researchprofiles.canberra.edu.au/en/persons/tahmina-rashid