The recent killing of an unarmed Pakistani teenager is striking for many reasons, from its sheer brutality to the fact that it was committed by police and captured on video.
What truly sets the incident apart from all other similar cases in Pakistan is that it resulted in convictions, a mere two months after the incident took place.
Pakistan’s judicial system is known for its sluggishness, and cases languish in courts for years. Conclusions of investigations are often elusive, and many cases never lead to convictions.
But in the case of Sarfraz Shah, 19 — who was shot by a ranger in Karachi in June as he was begging for his life — a combination of public outrage and the intervention of Supreme Court ensured a swift resolution last week with a death sentence for the man who pulled the trigger and life for five other rangers.
One of the defendants has appealed his sentence.
“It was unusually quick,” said Babar Sattar, an Islamabad-based lawyer. “This is not standard trial speed.”
Sattar said the speediness of the Shah case could set a precedent for similar cases in the future. It also showed that with sufficient public pressure the SC has little choice but to intervene. Shah’s killing, filmed in its entirety and broadcast across the country, made it virtually impossible for authorities to drag their feet.
“That was really very appalling, and it disturbed a lot of people,” said Zohra Yusuf, head of the Human Rights Commission. “It’s really one of those images that you can’t get out of your head.”
But public outcry, video footage of the crime and SC intervention are not always enough to secure a quick judicial process. This week marked the one-year anniversary of the killings of two teenagers in Sialkot.
The brothers were mistaken for robbers and beaten to death by a mob. As in the Shah case, footage of the killing sparked widespread condemnation. The police was widely criticised for standing by.