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Corruption case: Nawaz Sharif gets 7 years in jail

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Islamabad, Dec 24: An accountability court in Pakistan on Monday handed the country’s ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seven years in jail and a fine of $2.5 million in a corruption case, said a media report.

Accountability Court II Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik announced the short verdict in the two remaining corruption cases against the Sharif family, after reserving the decision on December 19.

Judge Malik said there was concrete evidence against the 68-year-old former premier in the Al-Azizia case, and that he was unable to provide a money trail in the case.

 

The court found Sharif culpable in Al-Azizia case and sentenced him to seven years in jail and also imposed a USD 2.5 million fine on him, according to initial reports.

Judge Malik said that there was no case against Sharif in the Flagship reference.

Sharif was present in the court with his lawyers. He was immediately taken into custody. It was unclear whether he will be taken to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail or Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.

The verdict was announced almost immediately after Sharif arrived in the courtroom. He has the option to challenge the verdict against him.

Three cases – Avenfield properties case, Flagship Investment case and Al-Azizia steel mills case – were launched by the National Accountability Bureau on September 8, 2017 following a judgment by the apex court that disqualified Sharif in the Panama Papers case in July, 2017.

In July, 2018 Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law Captain (retd.) M Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year respectively in prison in the Avenfield properties case related to their purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices. However, the three were bailed out by the Islamabad High Court in September.

The Supreme Court set the deadline for December 24 to wrap up the remaining two corruption cases against the three-time former prime minister.

Security has been beefed up around the judicial complex, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court.

A large number of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters and senior party leaders were present outside the court to show their support for the party’s supreme leader. Several senior PML-N leaders, including former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, were also present.

Following the verdict announcement, PML-N supporters clashed with security personnel. Tear gas and baton-charge was used to disperse the protesters.

Ahead of the verdict, Sharif said his conscience was clear.

“I do not have any sort of fear; my conscience is clear. I have done nothing that would force me to bow my head. (I) have always served the country and this nation with absolute honesty,” he said while talking to senior party leaders in a special meeting in Islamabad before going to the court.

He also said that there was no evidence against him. “I hope justice will be done and I will emerge victorious,” he said.

Sharif was driven to the court by his nephew Hamza Shehbaz in heavy police escort.

The apex court initially set six month deadline to conclude the three cases but it was subsequently increase around eight times on the request of the accountability court.

Sharif’s two sons – Hassan and Hussain – were also co-accused in all three cases but they were declared absconders for failing to appear before the court even for a single time.

The court decided to hear their cases separately once they returned back.

Ahead of the verdict, Sharif also met his younger brother and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif at Ministers’ Enclave. The younger Sharif was also facing probe by the NAB.

Last week, the judge rejected application by Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Harris to provide one week time to submit more documents but allowed him to provide any document by Friday last.

The judge also observed that the court was bound to follow December 24 final deadline set by the Supreme Court.

The three-time former prime minister and his family have denied any wrongdoing.

Sharif, who religiously followed the proceeding by appearing before the court for at least 78 times, told the media after the court reserved the judgment last week that he has not committed any corruption.

A long series of court cases in which the Sharif family have fought accusations of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets culminated in Monday’s judgment.

Since September 2017, Sharif has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times, Dawn reported.

The two references against Hussain and Hasan that the accountability court took up Monday concern the setting up of the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment in the UK.


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Almost two months into the year: No action plan for districts submitted yet

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, May 20: The delay in finalizing the district action plans for the current year may hit the developmental works in Jammu and Kashmir.

Though the financial year began on April 1, the district development plans in the state are yet to be finalized for 2019-2020.

Principal Secretary, Finance Department, Arun Kumar Mehta, recently wrote a letter to district development commissioners to furnish the yearly district action plans.

 

“All district development commissioners shall initiate tendering process immediately after model code of conduct is over and ensure that process is completed before March 31 for commencement of works. The annual maintenance contract should be based on the rate of contract as per laid down rules and regulation,” the order reads.

It says that delay in furnishing of this information will entail “further” delay in the tendering process and have “cascading” effect on the executing of ongoing works.  It will subsequently lead to delay in execution of new works.

An official of the Planning and Development Department said that delay in finalising the district development plans would affect developmental works in Kashmir.

“The district development commissioners should have finalised the district development plans even though they were busy with elections. The Valley would be adversely affected due to delay in finalizing the district development plans as Kashmir has a limited working season,” the official said.

The Kashmir has a limited working season from May to October and the region’s developmental activities are worst affected when there is delay in the approval of annual plan or there is some disturbance in the Valley.

“The non-finalization of the plan would lead to delay in execution of works as funds remain unspent. Once the funds meant for Kashmir get lapsed, they are diverted to Jammu region,” the official added.

During 2018-2019, Rs 4,000 crore had lapsed in the state due to non-utilisation of funds.

District development commissioner formulates the plans with the assistance of district level officers as per guide lines and parameters set by Planning and Development Department.  The district development commissioner has to monitor all the developmental programmes in the district.

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Decline in number of local youth joining militancy: Army

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Jammu, May 20: Top Army commander, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command Monday said even though the local militant recruitment has shown a significant decline, “the issue of local boys joining militancy remains a matter of concern.”

“Local recruitment remains a matter of concern for all of us. Last year, we had 217 local youth who had picked up militancy. This year, the number has significantly reduced and as on date there are only 40 youth who have picked up arms,” Lieutenant General Singh said while addressing the media in Udhampur.

Out of 40, six were killed in various encounters in South and North Kashmir while as three had returned. The Army had claimed that its appeal to Kashmiri mothers was proving a success as youth who had picked up arms were returning back to the mainstream.

 

According to the figures available with the KNO, in 2017, the number of youth who had picked up arms in J&K was around 240 that reduced to 2017 in 2018.  In 2016, the number was around 200, as per the official figures.

The Army commander said that one of the key reasons for locals picking up gun was the “radicalization and exploitation of social media by Pakistani agencies.” The army commander said that Pakistan was feeling “starved” due to a very effective counter infiltration grid of the Indian Army.

It is pertinent to mention that only 40 youth joining militancy this summer so far in Jammu and Kashmir is lowest ever since 2016. However, officials assert that they won’t take a chance and will ensure local militant recruitment remains plugged in remaining months of the year especially the summer months when infiltration is expected to pick up due to melting of snow. According to officials, no foreign militant was killed on the LoC this year so far.

‘VDCs useful, need to energise them’

Press Trust of India

Udhampur, May 20: The Army Monday batted strongly for “energising” village defence committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir calling them a “useful instrument” for the state.

The VDCs were setup in the mid-1990s with an aim to strengthen the security of those living in remote and mountainous areas of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramba, Rajouri, Reasi, Kathua and Poonch districts of the region.
A total of 4,125 VDCs exist in the state. “VDCs are most useful instrument available with the state”, General Officer Commanding in Chief (GoC-In-C), Northern Command, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh told reporters here.

“They (VDCs) are always to be energised and they shall be able to take on responsibility (of securing the villages in remote and hilly areas) tasked to them,” he added. The Army commander said that it must be ensured that the volunteers are provided weapons so that they can “defend their villages and pass information to the security forces regarding movement and presence of militants.”

“All have to play a role to ensure peace and normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. Notably, the Army has reached out to VDCs in various districts to strengthen the security apparatus of the population of rural and remote areas in Jammu region.

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Suffering in silence: Sexual abuse takes heavy toll on children in Kashmir

Hirra Azmat

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Srinagar, May 20: Ahmad’s room is a witness to his feats. His glass almirah is decorated with trophies and certificates that he won for his excellent grades and extra circular activities. A brilliant student, he was looking forward to top the upcoming matriculation exams when world suddenly came crashing down. His grades started falling and he turned aggressive by the day. What complicated the problem was his addiction to cannabis and psychotropic drugs.

“He shed a sea of tears while narrating his ordeal. It wasn’t the drug abuse; it was the sexual abuse that had worsened his mental health. His classmate had sexually assaulted him in front of group of boys and mocked him”, said the counselor at a private school in the valley.

Ahmad is not the isolated case. Rizwan (name changed), 16, fainted in class when the teacher was delivering a lecture. His sister and her husband rushed to the school and took him to the physician. The doctor gave some medicines for dehydration and didn’t take it seriously. The problem didn’t end here. The boy refused to eat or drink and locked himself in the room throughout the day.

 

“He looked like corpse when he was brought here. The reason for his high level of anxiety was the sexual abuse he faced. He was sodomised by his elder brother. We made the brother apologize before him. That has alleviated his pain to some extent,” said the counselor at Department of psychiatry, SMHS.

Mental health counselors’ note that the sexual abuse of young boys and girls mostly go unreported because of the family taboos. “They think it will bring humiliation to the family and the only thing they can do for the victim other than counseling is to make the perpetrator apologize”, said a counselor

Even children are often scared to report the abuse. “Many cases of abuse are not reported.  Most of the time it remains a secret crime, unless the victim is bold enough to tell someone about it. Mostly such crimes remain under wraps. This abuse can take place at home school or in places where child labour is common”, said Ezabir Ali, a noted Social Activist.

Experts dealing with such cases say most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims and they can be relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; neighbors and even strangers.

“What can be done? We need to encourage children to speak. The communication channel between parents (especially mother) and children should be open so that the child feels confident to shares when something is not going right. We need to make children aware of good touch and bad touch”, said Ali.

Psychiatrists say that childhood sexual abuse is less talked about and least researched in spite of being associated with a broad array of adverse long term consequences for survivors.

“It creates powerlessness, betrayal, stigmatization, and sexualization; each having a profound effect on further development of child. Using Victims of childhood sexual abuse report more symptoms of anxiety and depression”, said Dr Arshad Hussain, a leading psychiatrist who works as associate professor, psychiatry at Government Medical College, Srinagar.

What has complicated the problem is that there is a dearth of counselors in schools who can tackle such issues. “A handful of counselors at some noted private schools and colleges remain confined to being just academic counselors. We have to increase the domain of counselling”, said Dr Saima Farhad, Professor at MSW Department in University of Kashmir.

According to Dr Saima, there are three levels by which we can curb such incidents, “The first step begins from the family. Parents have to make their children understand the difference between good touch and bad touch. The second level begins at the school. We have a lot of Co-ed schools. The teachers have to make the students aware about the difference between a boy and a girl and at the same ensure that no difference is being done based on their gender”, she said

Experts suggest a separate wing in the police department to deal with the sex abuse cases for speedy justice.

“We have dearth of investigating officers in police stations. There is one IO in every police station and he is single-handedly dealing with 10-15 cases. The delay happens because we have to multi-task. There should be a separate wing for law and order, a wing for dealing with cases for CSA and qualitatively segregating the options”, said an investigating officer, who requested anonymity.

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