No more pardoning for rape

By: Raza Rumi

This time last year a 17-year-old-girl suffering from a hearing impediment was raped. By a relative of one of her father’s employers in Rawalpindi’s Gujar Khan district. Indeed, at the time of filing an FIR Munir Ahmed confirmed that he himself was witness to the grave assault.

Yet fast-forward to the present and Mr Ahmed has now pardoned his daughter’s rapist; explaining that he had registered the criminal case by mistake. That he was at the time working as a cattle-herder for a wealthy man likely played a major part in his decision. But it’s not our place to pass judgement on the poor or vulnerable. What is our duty, however, is to point out lax procedure when it comes to collecting important evidence. In this case, like so many others — no DNA samples were collected from either the victim or the accused. This despite a medical examination proving rape. This serves to weaken, if not absolutely paralyse, the court’s hand. For the incident took place just months before the Criminal Law (Amendment Offences Relating to Rape) Act, 2016 was passed; which provides for DNA as evidence.

This once more brings to the fore the question of how Pakistan’s Diyat laws allow the most serious of crimes to be treated as nothing more than a private dispute between two parties. This leads to travesties of justice across the board. Indeed, Pakistan rang in the New Year by witnessing the parents of an eight-year-old madrassa student ‘forgiving’ the cleric who literally beat their son to death.

The point is that if these two criminals — for we must call them what they are, regardless of their being pardoned or not — repeat these offences then it will be our laws that ought to be in the dock. After all, data shows that conviction rates dropped by an alarming 55 percent following the introduction of the Qisas and Diyat laws back in 1990. At a time when the whole country is still baying for the blood of Zainab’s rapist — we think these figures speak for themselves. Moreover, the rich and powerful find it all too easy to exploit these legal provisions for their own ends. In the not so curious case of Raymond Davis, for example, the American contractor was able to be spirited out of the country in the wake of Washington paying ‘blood money’ to secure his safe release; despite his fatal shooting of two men. And closer to home, Shahbaz Sharif’s implication in the Sabzazar Shootout Case prevented him from contesting the general elections of 2008. Yet just one month later, the father of this young man withdrew all charges. The rest, as they say, is history.

At a time when Pakistan’s criminal justice system is under the microscope — the time has surely come to treat crimes such as rape and murder as being against the state. For this will be true test of the country’s democratic health. It’s the least all of us deserve.