In Pakistan, ancient and modern justice collide

Wed Mar 13, 2013 7:08pm EDT
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By Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - An assembly of village elders in Pakistan sentenced Sikander Bhutto to be put to death and fed to dogs after he said he exposed a case of a woman beaten and killed by her husband.

Then the provincial high court stepped in and ordered police protection for Bhutto, a human rights activist.

"They told me to pay 200,000 rupees ($2,000) to them or get ready to be killed," Bhutto told Reuters, referring to the elders in the village of Ghotki in the southern province of Sindh.

The elders accused Bhutto of having an affair with the woman. Bhutto says she was killed in December for refusing to transfer ownership of her house to her husband.

The case is among a growing number where the judiciary is challenging the centuries-old tradition of quick justice handed down by gatherings of local elders, known as jirgas or panchayats.

These informal gatherings, where a group of local elders hears disputes and rules on them almost immediately, cover most of the country's 180 million people.

Many people prefer their quick and often rough justice because the formal legal system is cumbersome and corrupt, with cases taking years to be concluded.

In most of the country, jirgas are tolerated but not recognized by the formal courts. Decisions are not legally binding, but are usually enforced by the village.   Continued...

Mohammed Afzal, who petitioned for a reinvestigation into alleged death sentences a jirga imposed on five women and two men for appearing in a cellphone video while singing and clapping, poses for a picture in Islamabad February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed