The 14 months long questionable detention of Dr Asim Hussain


By Muhammad Asif

Dr Asim Hussain was detained by the paramilitary Rangers on August 26, 2015. He, along with 27 others, had been accused of facilitating terrorism by providing treatment to terrorists – militants working for political and religious groups – who were injured in shootouts with the law enforcers or with rival groups. After spending 90 days in the custody of paramilitary Rangers, he was handed over to the Karachi police for further interrogation. The police, however, relieved him of the charges and got him released, sparking a tussle between the federal and provincial governments. However, even after lapse of 14 months in detention, the prosecution miserably failed in proving any single allegation against him while on the other hand the courts have deprived him of his due basic right of release on bail. At the outset of the hearing, investigation officer DSP Altaf Hussain had submitted the final report terming the case ‘Class-A’ under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). He claimed he could not find any evidence against the suspect, whom he had already released under Section 497(2) of the CrPC. The newly appointed special public prosecutor, Nisar Ahmed Durrani, also seconded the IO. He said Dr Asim was released appropriately on bail by the police officer as no case under the anti-terrorist act was made out. Habib Ahmed, the Rangers counsel, opposed the Class-A report, contending there was enough evidence against the suspect of providing medical treatment to terrorists. The defence counsel, Anwar Mansoor Khan and Amir Raza Naqvi, argued the statement of Dr Yusuf was obtained forcibly and the hospital record was tampered with as the paramilitary soldiers took it away at gunpoint. Anwar referred to laws relating to providing treatment to injured people and asserted that nothing wrong was done. He also contended the paramilitary force, under the special powers of Section 11E of the Anti-Terrorism Act, had a specific domain related to terrorism cases. He questioned how Rangers could look into issues such as land grabbing and corruption. Anwar believed some personnel wanted to please their high-ups to gain promotions and concluded his argument by referring to the judgment of a case from 1969 involving the government and a woman. Then Dr Asim himself asked the judge for a minute to speak. The ex-minister complained about his negative portrayal in the media, claiming false accusations had been brought up against him. In December 2015, upset with the court order to try Dr Asim Hussain under anti-terror laws, the Sindh government had come out in the open to defend him. “We respect the judiciary but this decision really makes us wonder if Dr Asim will get justice or not,” Sindh Information Adviser Maula Bux Chandio said while addressing a news conference at the Sindh Secretariat. “Dr Asim’s family reserves the right to challenge the decision in court,” he said. “We agree that Dr Asim is our colleague, which is why we are morally and ethically supporting him. There is nothing wrong with that. But his family will pursue his case at a proper forum.” Chandio raised questions over the court decision, claiming the correct procedure may not have been followed. “We are really saddened with the court decision. We again request fulfilling legal requirements by going through the forged allegations against Dr Asim,” he said. “How is it possible for a terrorist to be admitted to his hospital at 4pm and released at 2pm?” Chandio asked. “The bills attached are questionable.” The information adviser claimed even after 90 days in Rangers’ custody, the investigation of Dr Asim was still continuing. “You put him in your unchallengeable custody and still could not prove anything. What else do you want to dig up in his case?” he said while referring to Dr Asim’s 90-day preventive custody. Appreciating the paramilitary force on the one hand, he expressed his displeasure how Dr Asim’s case had been handled by the LEA. “They were called in by the Sindh government and come under the command of the chief minister,” he contended. The Sindh High Court on Friday 18 December 2015 rejected a Rangers petition challenging the release of Dr Asim Hussain by police in a criminal case. A SHC division bench directed Rangers to approach the trial court if they had grievances because the matter was still being investigated, and the high court could not intervene. The bench also directed deputy attorney general and Sindh advocate general to file comments of the defence ministry and provincial chief secretary by December 22. Earlier on December 11, Dr Asim closely missed his release after a detention of 90 days as an anti-terrorism court allowed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to formally arrest the former federal minister and interrogate him further. However, he denied all charges against him saying, “I would rather die than give a statement under duress.” An accountability court in Karachi had extended on 17 December Thursday the remand of former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain over his alleged role in illegal appointments and award of contracts in the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC). The ex-petroleum minister, Sindh Higher Education Commission chairman had been handed over to NAB by Judge Muhammad Saad Qureshi of Accountability Court-IV on December 12 after the accountability body requested his custody for investigating corruption charges. On Thursday 10 December, he was brought before the court where NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Amjad Ali Shah and Investigating Officer Zameer Abbasi claimed that “major development had been made in the case” and presented related documents, including a charge sheet, memo of seizure and investigation diaries. NAB had arrested the former federal minister from the Sindh High Court on Dec 11 after an administrative judge of anti-terrorism court allowed the accountability body to take him into custody after police released him under Section 497(2) of Cr PC in a case relating to facilitating treatment and providing refuge to terrorists at his hospital. Before that, Dr Hussain had been arrested by Rangers on August 26 and placed into 90-day preventive detention. When that expired, he was placed in police custody. As Dr Asim was escorted to the courts, he paused briefly to show the media the ‘serious injuries’ he had developed during detention. He pulled up his trousers to show scars on his legs as he explained how he fell every time he tried to walk. His lawyer, Amir Raza Naqvi, claimed that his client was not “mentally alert” owing to “heavy medication” during his detention and opposed an extension in his remand. Naqvi urged the court to order Dr Asim’s admission to the Aga Khan University Hospital for treatment at his own cost. However, IO Abbasi argued that Dr Asim had been provided treatment in custody, but added that they had no objection to the former federal minister receiving treatment at a hospital. Extending Dr Asim’s detention, the judge directed the investigation officer to present him before the court on December 23 along with the final investigation report. On December 7, 2015 former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain broke his silence for the first time in the past three months, only to deny all the charges levied against him. During a hearing at the Sindh High Court Dr Asim vehemently denied his involvement in terrorism or in facilitating terrorists as the administrative judge for anti-terrorism courts, Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto, allowed him to speak. “When I was in custody, law enforcers took me to my own hospital handcuffed,” he said. “They made me sit in the intensive-care unit and went about their business.” Dr Asim later found out through the media that he was reported to have pointed out a ‘crime scene’ during this visit. Dr Asim had been accused of facilitating terrorism by providing treatment to terrorists – militants working for political and religious groups – who were injured in shootouts with the law enforcers or with rival groups. “Later, the law enforcers would tell the media that I pointed out the rooms where such militants were treated,” he said. “In fact, I was neither asked anything nor did I tell them anything myself.” The contentions made in the FIR also did not sit well with Dr Asim, who claimed he was being victimized for reasons he could not describe. He claimed that he had become a matter of ‘ego’ for someone who wants to see him behind bars. “Mine is just a case of victimization,” he told Justice Phulpoto. “I was never involved in any wrongdoings yet I have a pile of allegations against me. The real issue [of the state] is with someone else. I went with the paramilitary force personnel voluntarily because I believed that I will face no harm if I am innocent,” he said. He claimed that he was tortured physically and mentally during detention. “I am a heart patient and I have a 90-year-old mother who is ailing,” he said. “My wife is on the fourth stage of cancer.” When asked about a statement given by his subordinate, Ziauddin Hospital’s Deputy Managing Director Dr Yusuf Sattar, Dr Asim chose to question the judge what he will do if he was held accountable for a sin committed by his subordinate. “If your peon commits a crime, will you be held responsible for it?” he asked the judge, at which his counsel, Amir Raza Naqvi, pinched him to make him calm down. Dr Asim maintained that Dr Sattar’s statement was under duress. “Even your peon will speak against you, if tortured that badly.” Dr Asim also shared his fears of being killed in an ‘encounter’. On third hearing that he appeared for, since he was remanded into police custody after his preventive detention expired, the newly appointed investigation officer asked the judge for an extension in his remand for further questioning. The defence counsel opposed this request on grounds that the suspect had already spent months in custody during which the paramilitary force, the police and the accountability bureau interrogated him. Dr Asim’s attorney asked the judge to tell the investigators to bring before the court the evidence they have collected in the past three months.