Tahir, the Legal Rights Forum Chairman and 2008 JusticeMakers Fellow, and his roommate pick me up at 10:30am to head to Karachi City Court. On the way, Tahir tells me of the people I will meet at the courthouse today and points out legal buildings and landmarks on the way. We drive into parking for advocates (lawyers), say goodbye to Tahir’s roommate who is also a lawyer and wander through the court grounds. The courthouse has five main buildings, one for each district: North, South, East, West and Central. We head to the East district building to a meeting room. On the way, I see a range of people: from prisoners in 6-person handchains, to parent-child sets, from poor beggars to rich officials, including of course lawyers, judges and police. I can see hints of the hierarchy among the lawyers and other government officials, but I have yet to sort it out.
Malik Tahir Iqbal, IBJ’s 2008 JusticeMakers Fellow and Chairman of Legal Rights Forum.
During the five-minute walk to the meeting place, I was mentally drained as I accepted being a magnet for eyes. From out of nowhere, a beautiful necklace of fresh flowers was draped over me. I turned to be introduced to the modest confidence of Saima, an LRF advocate who I’d been in touch with over email. Before I could finish that introduction, another flowery string came from the opposite direction. In seconds, I’d been introduced to tens of people whose names I struggled to retain, and my hair smelled very fresh. I followed introductions through a set of smiles and chatter into a room where tea and cookies were brought. I was asked to give a small speech with introduction of myself.
At the courthouse, after tea and introductions, I went on a tour of the East building, guided by Saima and Safi, two LRF members. Safi, an LRF advocate, walks me over to a set of chained accused to show me the handchains. The chains grind around the wrists where they leave clear welts on the skin. LRF would like to petition the legislature to make 6-person chains illegal, but there are more primary problems. If the police are not following the laws, the petition to change the law seems secondary. Tahir says the type of cuff used on the prisoners, a chain-link cuff, is already illegal but the police use them anyway. Tahir said the police who retain the accused claimed they did not have the other type of handcuffs; advocates requested the legal cuffs from a government office which were apparently sent but are still not used. Another man I’m brought to see suffered a beating on the day of his arrest. He claims the police beat him, and the police say it was other people. The police did not fill out the required medical form, so the truth is uncertain. LRF is concerned for cases like this. These accused citizens have the right to be treated properly as well as for legal representation.