Lawmakers jailed for fake degrees, more in court

Following an order from the top court in Pakistan, lower courts have started convicting former members of parliament who contested the 2008 elections using fake degrees. Several politicians have been given jail sentences, and there are numerous cases now before lower courts, with judgments due soon.

Holding a degree qualification was a precondition for contesting the 2008 poll.

The cases were lodged against the lawmakers after Pakistan’s Supreme Court on 28 March ordered the lower judiciary and the election commission to take stern action against former MPs with fraudulent degrees, and to stop them from getting elected again in polls to be held on 11 May.

The apex court’s orders were based on its earlier verdict, passed in June 2010, which ordered the Higher Education Commission and the Election Commission of Pakistan, or ECP, to verify the degrees of all 1,095 parliamentarians and members of provincial assemblies.

In a continuing series of convictions, former federal minister Humayun Aziz Kurd has been sentenced to one year in prison, and Abdul Qayyum – a former member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly – has been imprisoned for three years.

Ali Madad Jattak, a former provincial minister from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has been sentenced to a two-year prison term by the Session Court in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province. The former chief minister of Balochistan, Aslam Raisani, is on record as saying that “a degree is a degree whether genuine or bogus”.

Another former minister from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Aqil Shah, was given a one-year jail term for his fake degree. Shah was minister of sport and belongs to the Awami National Party, the ruling party in the province and a coalition partner in central government, which has been dissolved constitutionally to ensure fair and free elections next month.

Two other former member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly have also been convicted and sentenced for submitting forged degrees to the ECP in 2008. Sardar Ali Khan was jailed for three years, and Javed Khan Tarakai was sentenced to one year.

The secretary of the election commission, Ishtiaq Ahmed, told University World News: “All the former lawmakers convicted for having fake or bogus university degrees will be barred from taking part in the upcoming elections.”

All of the convicted parliamentarians were arrested in court immediately after sentencing because one former member of the Punjab’s provincial assembly, Rizwan Gul – of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – fled seconds after he was given a three-year sentence.

Pakistani politicians are among the richest people in the country, and all of the fake-degree holding parliamentarians when convicted were also fined 3,000-5,000 Pakistani rupees (US$30 to US$50) – what many feel is a low fine, given rumours that some have millions of dollars stashed in offshore banks.

However, last week a higher court’s judgment cast doubts on the legal system and on the resolution of the fake-degree saga.

Jamshed Dasti, a PPP former national assembly member, was sentenced to three years in prison on 5 April by a district judge. But he challenged the conviction in the Lahore High Court, which last Thursday declared his conviction null and void and ordered his release from jail.

“Some politicians with fake bachelor degrees, who were sure to receive jail terms, have fled from their respective areas and their whereabouts is not known,” Rakhshanda Shaheen, Sessions Judge of Islamabad district, told University World News.

“Courts have declared them absconders, and verdicts will possibly be passed in their absence. And if they do not appear, they will be declared proclaimed offenders.”

Under fresh legal pressure owing to the Supreme Court’s hearing of the fake degree cases this month, the ECP has become strict and speedy in verifying the qualifications of remaining members of parliament whose degrees are suspect – and 11 more degrees have been declared bogus by the Higher Education Commission.

On 8 April the ECP requested the lower courts to initiate legal proceedings against them as well.