The Sindh Wildlife Department has taken an alleged turtle smuggler to court. The accused, buy Sajid Cheema, is from Gujranwala and lives in Bangkok. He was caught red-handed at the Karachi airport last month with 218 black spotted turtles stuffed in his briefcase. More than 45 of the turtles have died so far, the rest have been released back into the wild.
What transpired at the last hearing is that the accused, the alleged smuggler, filed an application pleading guilty. Based on that application the judge was inclined to simply impose a fine and not a prison sentence, and even return “his property” (i.e. the turtles) to him. So on the last date of hearing the Sindh Wildlife Department’s lawyer Faisal Siddiqi and his associate Salahuddin Panhwar managed to have the turtles freed and returned to the wild, and also to delay the alleged smuggler’s acquittal. They also filed an application stating their lack of faith in the judge and requested a transfer of the case from the present judge to another before a superior court – the session court.
At today’s hearing when the judge expressed his inclination to release the alleged smuggler after imposing a fine of Rs. 50,000, the Sindh Wildlife Department’s prosecution team informed him that he cannot hear the case because they had filed a transfer application. In light of this, the judge has agreed to adjourn the hearing to the 25th of October. The hearing for the transfer of the case before the session court is fixed for the 22nd of October. The prosecution team hopes that the case will be transferred to a judge who has not already made up his mind to release the accused lightly.
The reason the alleged smuggler is on bail is because the maximum sentence he can receive is of a year. Since it is not more than a year, under the law he cannot be kept in jail even during trial. This is a major flaw in the law. The sentences are too little, the accused can plead guilty, pay the fine and be released to continue as before. It is like a traffic violation where the fine is also of Rs. 50,000. For any small robbery one can get a sentence of three to seven years. If an injury is caused during that robbery it can be extended to ten years. However if you trade illegally in innocent lives, captured from their freedom in the wild, leading to the death of 45 turtles in the process, you are not required to go to jail for a single day, or even a single hour. You can simply pay Rs. 50,000, a small amount compared to the profits you would make from their sale, and be free to repeat the offense.
It is perhaps not coincidental that the case for these smuggled turtles was heard on October 4 – World Animal Day – and one can hope for winds of change, and a future where justice for our indigeneous wildlife is served.
The next hearing is at 8.30am on the 22nd of October at Malir Court in Karachi. Please show your support for the turtles by showing up in person at court that day. Your presence will make a difference. We hope that maximum punishment and fines are imposed upon the alleged smuggler, and this case brings us one step closer towards ending illegal wildlife trade from Pakistan.