Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-007-2013
23 January 2013
PAKISTAN: A journalist / human rights defender has been implicated in an honour killing and police refused to protect him
ISSUES: Human rights defender; violence against women; domestic violence; honour killing; impunity
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a journalist/human rights defender has been implicated in an honour killing by a powerful tribe to punish him for raising the issue of the domestic abuse and murder of a woman, who had been declared Kari (black woman-a bad character). The victim is in hiding while perpetrators are raiding his and his relatives’ houses to find and murder him. The police have conspicuously refused to file a criminal case against the perpetrators on the application of the victim. The Sindh highcourt has directed the high-ranking police officials to intervene in the case of murder threats to the journalist and to report to the court but police have failed to comply with the court order.
The woman’s killers are from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the tribal chief remained as chief of the union council on the party ticket, using police influence on the people of the district.
A woman, Ms Shahnaz Bhutto, 28, was murdered by her husband and brother-in-law on December 7, 2012 on the pretext of an honour killing. She was murdered after her husband acquired her property but she was later accused of having an illicit relationship with a man, who is a journalist and a human rights defender. Her husband, Mr. Rana Bhutto, has married three times and allegedly murdered his first wife, Ms Makhni, by electrocuting her with live wires in 2000 on the issue of property. He married his second wife after the death of the first, and in 2003 he married Shahnaz as his third wife.
Rana Bhutto always wanted to have Shahnaz’s property – one expensive apartment in Karachi city - in his name. In 2012, he got the apartment in his name at gunpoint and sent her back to her village, Maula Alqutub town, in Daharki sub district. She had been made a victim of domestic violence continuously for some years of her marriage in order to get her to transfer her property to her husband. During the past four years, she was writing complaints to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the prime minister, the Inspector General of Police of the province, Sindh high court and NGOs to inform them that she is under domestic violence not only by her husband but also from the male members of her in laws. In 2009, a family Jirga (Panchayat) was held under Dr. Zafar Bhutto and the elders and important personalities of the Bhutto clan in the area attended it, including the perpetrators. The Jirga held that Shahnaz Bhutto had to be violently dealt with, not only by her husband but by the male persons on his side of the family. The Jirga directed that no other person should deal with the lady and that her husband should not beat her; otherwise a criminal case would be filed against him.
However, the perpetrators, with the connivance of police, continued to beat her to get her to transfer the property. One of the perpetrators, Kala Khan Bhutto, is the sub inspector in Central Investigation Agency (CIA), a police wing.
On the day of the murder, Ms Shahnaz was taken to a graveyard at Khair Muhammad Bhutto’s village, 15 kilometeres away from her residence, to visit the grave of her father-in-law who died some months ago. She was murdered by 10 persons and her uncle and others were witnesses to the incident.
After the murder, which was exposed by the journalist Mr. Sikander Bhutto, the murderers announced that Sikander was having an illicit relationship with Shahnaz and he is a target of Karo, which means he is liable to be killed. Mr. Sikander Ali Bhutto, a media representative of the Human Rights Commission (HRCP), a prominent journalist of Ghotki district and vice president of Daharki Press Club, Sindh province, is affiliated with Pakistan Press International (PPI) and reporter at News One TV. He has to take shelter in another province because of armed attacks at his home and the houses of his relatives by the henchmen of the perpetrators who killed Ms Shahnaz Bhutto. Sikander, as a human rights defender, has also reported about the domestic violence against her by the male members of her husband’s family and about her applications to the courts, federal and provincial ministers and high-ranking police officers.
Abdul Majeed, the son of Koro Khan Bhutto, the brother of second wife of her husband, surrendered at the Daharki police station three days after the murder, and confessed that he murdered Shahnaz and that he also tried to murder Sikander, the journalist, but failed. Before his surrender, Mr. Rana, the husband of victim, was arrested and also confessed the murder, on the pretext of honour killing.
The role of the police is very dubious in the case as a sizeable number of the perpetrators’ henchmen are openly threatening to kill a journalist as an honour killing but no action has been taken to provide protection to the journalist and his family members. The police have also ignored the direction from Sindh high court, which asked them to send back a report on the allegations of death threats on the pretext of honour killing. The directions were issued on January 8 but the police have not replied yet.
The killers are from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the tribal chief remains as chief of the union council on the party ticket, using police influence on the people of the district.
The term Karo Kari is used for honour killings and every year more than 300 persons are made a victim of ‘honour’. However, there is no official record of honour killings as the family members of the victims avoid registering the cases because of more revenge and murders from the perpetrators, who always have good patronage with the local police and lower judiaciary, which is also biased against the women. It is very rarely that perpetrators of honour killings are punished by the courts. Rather, in the majority of cases, a settlement is reached outside the court with the connivance of the lower courts. The settlements are more horrible than the honour killings, as minor girls are exchanged in the settlements.
The honour killing perpetrators use the cover of an illegal feudal court, named a Jirga, which consists of elders from the tribe, and orders the killings of the accused persons and couples. The higher courts have declared the Jirgas illegal but there is no law to ban them. Most of the cases of honour killings are based on the sharing or distribution of property and, when property issues are not settled, then the woman is accused of destroying of honour of the family. The accused woman is then linked with some man. After the honour killing, the murderer is treated as the hero who saved the honour of the family.
This crime is very common in southern Punjab and Sindh, where the feudal and centuries old tribal system is used.