LAHORE, Pakistan – A 9-month-old Pakistani boy has been swept up in an attempted murder investigation that highlights the country's dysfunctional criminal justice system where even children are not immune from questionable legal decisions.
The toddler was brought to court last Friday as part of an investigation relating to an incident where residents in his neighborhood clashed with police. He was granted bail by a judge.
The incident began in late January and touches on many of the challenges Pakistan faces such as electricity shortages and faulty police investigations.
Police and energy officials went to the neighborhood on Jan. 31 to disconnect customers who they said were stealing electricity and gas. Such pilferage is common in Pakistan, and attempts to disconnect customers are sometimes met with violence.
Police said they were pelted with stones by angry residents, while the toddler's grandfather says some neighborhood women attacked the police with batons. That altercation sparked police to open an attempted murder investigation into 30 people in the neighborhood, including the father of the toddler and his unnamed son, said police officer Atif Zulfiqar, who is in charge of the area.
The grandfather, Malik Muhammed Yaseen, said the police came to the house multiple times looking for the son, and when they were told that he was less than a year old they told the family to take him to the court to get bail.
A lawyer for the family, Irfan Tarar, said police appeared to have no idea that the son was so young. He said after the boy was brought to the court on April 3 to get bail, the family spirited him away to the city of Faisalabad to protect him.
The lawyer said the police "blindly" registered the attempted murder case against a baby and said the entire episode was really related to a property dispute between the landlord and the tenants, which included the baby's family.
But Zulfiqar from the police contends the family isn't being truthful. He said the police hadn't deliberately targeted the infant but were looking for a more grown-up son that they believe the family is still protecting. He said the family produced the infant as a way to deflect attention. The grandfather denied this.
Wherever the truth lies, legal analysts say the case shows the deficiencies in a Pakistani criminal justice system where police often lack investigation skills and the legal system can be abused for personal gain.
Legal expert Babar Awan said the judge should have thrown out the case against the baby the day he was produced in court and faulted the police for a shoddy investigation.
"There is also a flaw in the legal system, and it needs to be reformed," he said.
The next hearing the case is April 12 although the family's lawyer says they have been told by the police that they are dropping any investigation of the infant.
Ahmed contributed from Islamabad.