pakistan
Thursday Jan 20 2022
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Karachi court acquits 4 out of 5 murder accused; one dies during trial in prison

(Representational image) a judge can be seen tapping his gavel in a courtroom in this undated photo. — Twitter/File
(Representational image) a judge can be seen tapping his gavel in a courtroom in this undated photo. — Twitter/File

In what would appear at first glance a momentous day for Pakistan’s criminal justice system, typically fraught with cases where the innocent needlessly languish in prison, a Karachi court on January 10 acquitted four members of a family in a murder case.

But it was too late for the fifth member of the family, Saima, as she died during trial in the city’s Central Jail, where she remained incarcerated for almost a year-and-a-half. The court “abated” the case against her, while acquitting the co-accused.

"Co-accused UTP (under trial prisoner) Saima Farhan died during course of proceedings of this murder case due to illness in prison and proceedings of this murder case abated against her as per relevant provisions of CrPC," the court said in the judgement.

Saima, 35, who was an aalima and used to teach the Holy Quran to the person she was accused of killing, died in jail on June 14, 2021, due to severe abdominal and kidney issues. Jail authorities, in her death report, also revealed that she was a cancer patient.

"Saima's family members have been acquitted of all charges [...] and had she been alive today, the same would apply to her," the defence counsel — Muhmmad Akbar Khan and his associate Sheikh Saqib Ahmed — while speaking to Geo.tv.

'We are poor people, what could we have done?'

Saima's family said divine retribution certainly comes (Allah ki laathi be awaaz hai), adding that the court and the judge "served us justice".

However, the pain of losing a loved one in the process continues to haunt them.

"Our sister died right before us while suffering in jail [...] we are poor people, what could have we done for her? We were helpless," Saima's siblings said.

The defence counsel, while talking to Geo.tv, said: “During the trial, Saima asked us at every hearing: 'Wakeel sahib, hamein bail kab milegi? (when will we be granted bail)?”

The case

Saima's incarceration began on February 14, 2020, after she was arrested for allegedly poisoning her neighbour and friend, Rukhsar.

Rukhsar's death occurred on February 24, 2019, in Karachi's Civil Hospital, where she was rushed after her health deteriorated at her residence in Liaquatabad.

Following Rukhsar's death, her mother, Shahnaz, sought to register a complaint against Saima and her family members for allegedly poisoning her daughter.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against Saima, as well as four of her immediate family members, at the Liaquatabad Police Station on September 12, 2019.

In the FIR, Rukhsar's mother, Shahnaz, accused Saima and her family members of killing her daughter in a bid to usurp her property.

Saima's sister, Nusrat Naz, brothers Muhammad Ali and Zahid Ali, and sister-in-law Asma Muhammad Ali were booked under Sections 302 (punishment for death or life imprisonment for murder) and 34 (when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Saima's family members, speaking to Geo.tv, said the complainants built a "false case" against them with the "help of the police" to usurp the property Saima owned.

After the case was registered, Shahnaz sought the exhumation of her daughter's grave to back her claim that Rukhsar had been poisoned by Saima and her family.

Once her body was exhumed, it was discovered that she died due to zinc phosphide — a compound used in pesticides such as rat poison — but the report categorically stated: "Manner of the death cannot be commented upon." The report could not establish whether the poison was self-consumed or given by another.

The court held in the final verdict that despite Rukhsar's death due to poison, Saima and her family members could not be implicated in the crime.

Death amid trial

An additional district and sessions judge officially framed murder charges against Saima and her family members on February 6, 2021 under Sections 302 and 34 of the PPC.

During the trial, her health started to deteriorate. The defence counsel moved repeated applications to get her treated. Upon the court's direction, she was finally sent to Civil Hospital.

However, there were delays in her treatment.

On June 12, 2021, the judge ordered the investigation officer to take appropriate action against the jail authorities as they had failed to refer Saima to Ziauddin Hospital for further tests despite the court's instructions.

A day later, she was rushed to Civil Hospital on an "emergency basis due to abdominal pain", according to the prison medical officer's report.

After she came back to prison from the hospital, Saima was due to visit Ziauddin Hospital for further tests, but she died in prison the next day — June 14, 2021.

The trial against her family members continued in her absence, and after almost seven months, the judge on January 10, 2021, finally announced the verdict, declaring all the accused acquitted.

The additional district and sessions judge noted that the prosecution "miserably failed" to prove its case against the accused.

Correction: An earlier version of the story referred to the deceased woman as having been exonerated by the court, whereas the case against her was, in fact, “abated”. The error is regretted.