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Every institution failed Amina

http://tribune.com.pk/story/758534/comment-every-institution-failed-amina/

By Fouzia Saeed, Pakistan Fellow at Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC

Published: September 6, 2014

fire 

Amina set herself on fire in front of the police station in Muzaffargarh on the 5th of March 2014 because her rapists were released with the help of the police.  Her case created a media hype. Despite getting attention from the highest authorities it fell into the routine game playing of the police. Unfortunately, Amina’s parents did not get justice. The court acquitted the culprits on the basis of significant doubt and limited evidence. 

Amina was an 18-year-old first year student.   On the 5th of January 2014, she was travelling with her brother on his motorbike, when four men stopped them and attacked her, tearing her clothes and attempting to rape her.   Some people living close by came out and chased the men away. A woman put a chador around her to cover her body.

Later, her family said that the man accused of being the ringleader of the group was the brother of her sister’s husband.  He apparently had asked several times, but her parents refused every time. They were already very unhappy about their other daughter’s marriage to that family.

Amina became furious when after three months, the police not only released the culprits, but also submitted that there was no evidence to uphold any claim. Thus the case was thrown out. Her deadly protest generated reaction.

On March 14th, the opposition in the Punjab Assembly complained about the pitiable law and order situation in the province.  Although the Law Minister gave a long speech explaining what the government would do to ensure a proper outcome, the opposition still walked out in protest.

The CM visited her family and appointed an additional IG with instructions to deliver a report immediately. When the CM took notice, the police went into their usual cover-up routine. The CM intervened again and suspended the RPO and DPO for not taking action and instructed to arrest the DSP, SHO and Investigating officer of the Police Station Mir Hazar Khan for negligence.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan also took suo motu notice and considered the actions of the police to be in violation of Articles 9, Articles 4, 25(3) and 37(d) of the Constitution. They immediately asked for the police reports. Hearing the usual story from the Additional IG of Punjab, that the whole case had been fabricated, the Chief Justice (at that time) Tassaduq Husain Jillani rejected the opinion, offered deep condolences to the mother of Amina and instructed a Sessions Judge to investigate the case properly.

As soon as the new notoriety surrounding her death faded, the usual police tactics took over. They immediately released the DSP and SHO from jail and re-amended  the FIR (no 31/14), removing the references to PPC sections (322, 201) and the Anti-terrorism Act section 155-c, 7 that had been added under the orders of the Supreme Court. Amina’s lawyer moved to re-amend the FIR but the submission was rejected and even the high court no longer seemed interested to pursue it further.

A series of bizarre stories soon started to circulate within the Muzaffargarh social circles creating doubts about the honesty of the victim. This is another tactic very skilfully applied by the police.

After the CM’s intervention and the response of the Supreme Court, Amina’s parents felt brave enough to pursue the case to get justice for their daughter. Unfortunately, although the CM allegedly promised Rs500,000 to cover the family’s legal fees, no money was ever received, and no one among the higher authorities is following the case any longer.

The Session court has just decided to acquit the culprits, and the investigation officer who was still in jail, for lack of evidence. The ability of the police to re-frame charges, conduct shoddy investigations, falsify evidence in order to create doubts works every time. Nothing in this story is new to anyone who has looked into the crime of rape in Pakistan. These are classic tactics applied to every case since it is always the culprit who is willing to pay more in bribes to get the case thrown out and is usually more politically powerful than the victim’s family.   Because of this collusion between the police and criminals, the conviction rate for rape cases in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is less than one percent.

If this is the fate of rape investigations in cases that get substantial media attention, we can only imagine what happens to those that go through the normal process. A few days ago another gang rape victim in Dera Ghazi Khan set herself on fire because the police released the rapists. Is that going to be the future for rape victims in Pakistan? Will the rule of law ever become a priority for women in our society?

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2014.

 

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Unending woes: The naked truth about fishing

World Fisheries Day is celebrated across the planet on the 21st of November, and is marked by celebration and solidarity of all fisherfolk.

In most countries, the key issues revolve around over-harvesting, marking international water boundaries and sanctioning countries that refuse to follow international conservation norms.

However, our Pakistani fisherfolk are still struggling for basic personal dignity. Extortion by the coast guards is a daily routine for those going out to fish every morning. Villagers are forced to comply to extortion demands or face serious harm and humiliation.

About one week ago, a few fishermen grew tired of this daily extortion and refused to pay. In return, they were forced to strip naked in public, saying they needed to check if they were Muslims or Hindus. When they again resisted, they were beaten until they stripped.

On November 19, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum organised a huge rally near the coastal village of Ibrahim Haideri to protest the illegal actions, but no action has been taken against the offending Guardsmen. Unfortunately, the norm in Pakistan is for the victim to be punished for complaining of abuse. So, instead of being worried about this open protest, the Coast Guardsmen have increased their harassment of the fishing community.

The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum is headed by Mohammad Ali Shah with members from all over the coast of Sindh and Balochistan. In the past, the Forum struggled against abuse by Rangers who had been given monopoly over fish trading contracts by the Government. The fishing communities were not allowed to sell their catch to anyone but the Rangers at whatever price demanded. After nineteen years of struggle the PFF was finally able to end the exploitative arrangement with this official mafia, only to find that the Sindh government had given similar contracts to landlords in Manchar, Shahdadkot, Badin and Sanghar.

Why is it that powerful people who violate rights live a great life in our country with full confidence that no one can touch them, while those without political power are humiliated and struggle each day just to survive? We continue to reinforce this system by supporting similar abusers in the name of party loyalty, patriotism, hero worship or, often, just for petty personal gain. The poor, who have little access to the corridors of power, hesitate to complain for fear of retaliation because they know that wrongdoers are rarely punished by our courts without political backing.

Perhaps our next Chief Justice can use his influence in the Law and Justice Commission to focus on reforms in the lower judiciary rather than pursuing selected flamboyant cases. For today, would it be too much to ask the Government to stop the constant abuse of the fishing communities and take the offending Coast Guardsmen to task?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2013.