A court in Pakistan has criticized authorities for not placing foreign travel restrictions on a U.S. diplomat who is under investigation for his involvement in a fatal traffic accident nearly two weeks ago.
The incident occurred in Islamabad on April 7, when a U.S. embassy vehicle driven by Defense and Air Attache Col. Joseph Emanuel Hall collided with a motorcycle, according to police and relatives. The accident killed the motorcyclist, 22-year-old Ateeq Baig, and injured another person on the bike.
The dead man's family has since petitioned the capital city's High Court, asking that Hall's name be placed on the so-called Exit Control List, or ECL, which bars people facing judicial proceedings from leaving Pakistan without permission.
Police released identification documents of the diplomat along with video footage which showed the vehicle running a red light and hitting the motorcycle.
Baig's family has staged a street demonstration, demanding the government ensure justice is served.
During Wednesday's hearing, the judge, Amir Farooq, said, "If the law protects him [the diplomat], it also protects our citizens." Without naming the envoy, Farooq went on to say, "Him being a diplomat does not mean he can kill our citizens."
The judge also reprimanded a senior police officer present in the court, saying the officer failed to detain Hall and did not record a statement from the diplomat or take blood samples following the accident.
"A white man, and that too, an American — you must have felt very nervous," the judge said while addressing the police officer.
Shahzad Akbar, the attorney for Baig's family, later told reporters the court asked police to ensure a fair investigation. He also said the court has given the Interior Ministry until Monday to decide whether Hall's name should be placed on the ECL. Authorities have been asked to submit a report on the matter by Tuesday, when the court reconvenes.
The U.S. embassy has expressed its "deep sympathy to the family of the deceased and those injured,"and pledged to fully cooperate with local authorities in the investigation.
A day after the fatal accident, Pakistan summoned U.S. Ambassador David Hale to the Foreign Ministry and lodged a "strong protest" over the death.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal reiterated last week that "justice will take its course in accordance with the law of the land and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961."
Pakistani officials, however, acknowledge the American diplomat enjoys immunity under the convention.
The accident comes amid increased diplomatic tensions with Washington over allegations insurgents in Afghanistan are using Pakistani soil to plot deadly attacks. Pakistani officials reject the allegations.
Bilateral relations were severely strained in 2011 when a CIA contractor in the city of Lahore shot and killed two Pakistanis riding on a motorcycle. The contractor, Raymond Davis, defended his actions, saying he had to open fire to prevent the robbery of his vehicle.
Washington claimed diplomatic immunity for Davis, but Islamabad rejected it and a court later charged the American with murder.
The contractor, however, was later acquitted and freed after families of the victims forgave Davis in return for financial compensation, an action permitted under Pakistani law.