How Pakistan's drug laws made Sakina's acquittal possible
Sakina was convicted under Control of Narcotic Substance Act 1997, Section 6, pertaining to drug carrying, transport
On January 14, 2021, Sakina Ramzan, 77, was released from the Women’s Prison and Correctional Facility which is part of the Central Jail in Karachi. She was reunited with her family after serving at least six years of a life sentence for transporting narcotics from Quetta to Karachi. Her release was ordered by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan vide a judgment dated January 6, 2021.
Even though at the background of the story is a poor woman who had no knowledge of the drugs she was carrying, the law on drugs and the evidence that shapes drug cases have to be understood to fully appreciate Sakina’s release.
Sakina was convicted under Section 6 of the Control of Narcotic Substance Act 1997, which prohibits the delivery and transportation of narcotics and also prescribes punishments in relation to the quantities recovered on the suspect.
While various judgments of the apex court have expanded on the application of Section 6 of the Act which pertains to knowing that you are carrying and delivering drugs. In this particular case, Sakina maintained that she was not aware that the electronic items she was carrying for an employer carried drugs. Sakina’s acquittal was actually a consequence of irregularities and weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
The prosecution must, in any criminal case, prove the culpability of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. More particularly in narcotics cases, the evidence related to the chain of custody; which begins with the recovery of the seized drugs, includes the separation of samples and ultimately the dispatch to the testing laboratory, is of paramount importance. It is based on these that the prosecution must establish that the chain of custody is unbroken, unsuspicious, safe and secure.
In Sakina’s case evidence was presented before the Special Court II (Control of Narcotic Substances) located in Karachi where it was found that the witness testimonies were inconsistent calling into question the quantities recovered as well as the entire chain.
The apex court also held that for the testing of narcotics to conform with and meet the threshold of rule 6 of the Control of Narcotic Substances Rules 2001, the report of the government analyst after the test and analysis should include a detailed plan of an experiment, procedure, test or a precise step-by-step description, including a list of all necessary reagents. A failure to demonstrate such specific details may result in the invalidity or inconclusiveness of such tests or examinations.
Sakina’s story makes one reflect on the challenges faced by the underprivileged that are tangled in such situations due to lack of resources and means. Women and children of destitute circumstances are prime targets for becoming drug peddlers for actual perpetrators that are a part of various narcotics networks. Knowingly or unknowingly many Sakinas find themselves in situations where the law provides harsh sentences without representation or guidance, completely at the mercy of the criminal justice system.
Sakina, an underprivileged old lady, was taken away from her family for almost seven years for a crime that she had no knowledge of committing and was never afforded the benefit of doubt, unlike the gentleman driving her taxi who was acquitted by the trial court. Her crime was one for which the real perpetrators are at large tasking the Superior Judiciary with the moral hazard of balancing the menace of drugs in society while exercising caution in depriving the innocent from their freedom and liberty.
Sakina will not receive any compensation by the State for her honourable acquittal nor does the law of the land offer any rehabilitation programme for her. Unfortunately, the stigma of jail, of drugs, of culpability and the darkness associated with her incarceration will stay with her.
In the last hour leading up to her release, Sakina mentioned being unable to sleep for three nights after she received news of her acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. She bids farewell to her fellow inmates, her custody officers, and the superintendent of the Women’s Prison and Correctional Facility. She bears tears of joy to be united with her family once again but the story doesn’t seem to have a happy ending. Where will she go? What will she do? How will she embrace the outside world and more importantly, will the outside world embrace her?