Murders We Wrote Off

Date:

The Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government is leaving no stone unturned in reminding the world of its duty to compensate Pakistan for the unprecedented severity of recent floods that wreaked death and devastation across one-third of the country.

These appeals would have packed more punch had the government deemed it equally urgent to ensure that the killers of 27-year-old journalist Nazim Jokhio don’t get to buy their way out of punishment with the help of the controversial Diyat (blood money) law.

This young man was a whistle-blower, an eco-martyr killed for exposing the illegal hunting of the endangered Houbara Bustards in Thatta, Sindh. His tortured body was found at the farmhouse of a member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly Jam Awais, who belongs to the Sindh’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Almost a year has passed since Nazim Jokhio’s murder, yet the trials of his family are far from over. Officially, his heirs have pardoned Jam Awais and five of his henchmen in the name of Allah and without accepting any Diyat. But according to media news, the forsaken family has been paid four to five crore rupees as blood money.

Given reports of alleged threats and intimidation faced by the mother, wife and young children of Nazim Jokhio over the last one year, this didn’t come as a surprise. What is surprising, however, is that courts don’t seem inclined to reinterpret and invoke section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code which empowers them to convict a person despite compromise (Diyat).

Nazim Jokhio’s killing was anything but accidental, it was premeditated and deeply intentional

This particular section of the law is based on the principle of “fasad-fil-arz” (mischief on earth). The definition of “fasad-fil-arz” in Section 299 of the PPC includes “the brutal or shocking manner in which the offence has been committed which is outrageous to the public conscience…” It means any crime that sabotages or undermines peace on Earth, be it terror or terror from spilled blood. Nazim Jokhio was killed for trying to protect Mother Nature. It doesn’t get more “fasad-fil-arz” than this, the case is literally mischief on earth.

The various ups and downs in the case highlight how the rich and powerful are easily able to drag cases on for so long that the victim’s family is left with no choice but to eventually relent and forgive the killer with or without blood money. As far as the court is concerned, Nazim Jokhio’s family forgave the killers, for free. This means that officially no Diyat has been paid, and the court doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. 

What’s more, the principal accused, the MPA, Jam Awais was nominated in the FIR and witnesses in their initial statements implicated him in the crime, yet the Investigating Officer (IO), instead of collecting evidence, recommended the court to discharge him because he’s been forgiven by the victim’s family. The court took the IO to task, but the point remains that in a system already stacked against them, what chance do the innocent stand when investigating officers become a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful. Can’t help but mention that this is the third IO in the case, the victim’s family obviously doesn’t have the clout or money to get IOs changed.

As far as the court is concerned, no money changed hands in exchange for the pardon. What kind of justice is that and why is that not a legal consideration! Nazim Jokhio feared for his life and made a video a few days before his death in which he named the people who eventually killed him. He made the video because he wanted the state to protect him for doing the right thing. The state failed him. He made the video because he wanted the perpetrators to be brought to justice in case something happened to him. The video is evidence that he didn’t want his killers to go scot free by paying off his heirs. It’s been a year since then. Again, the state is allowing the perpetrators to drag on the case in court. True, the video is not evidence and justice has to be blind, but do we also have to be blind to the wishes of a dead man reaching out from his grave.

A much ignored irony is that the very lawmaker who is supposed to help make laws to uphold justice is trying to benefit from one of the most ill-conceived and hastily approved law; a law that damaged the basis of our criminal jurisprudence by turning even murder into tort. A tort is a transgression between two individuals with the state under no legal obligation to put its foot down. Our Diyat Law has made murder an offence against the victim’s family, not an offense against the state. Unlike states, however, family members can be beaten, broken or bought as usually happens in the Islamic Republic.

The acquittal of Shahrukh Jatoi and his accomplices in the Shahzeb Khan murder is another in-your-face example of how the Diyat law is misused and help acquit a man sentenced to death for brazenly taking a life.

In the recent Zaitoon Bibi verdict, the Supreme Court historically noted why brothers never gift away their inheritance, why is it always the sisters. In the same vein, why do the weak almost always opt for Diyat (monetary compensation) and not Qisas (an eye-for-an-eye)?

It’s elementary; there’s a fundamental flaw in the Qisas and Diyat Law: the absence of State’s role in determining the applicability of Diyat. Murder is a violation of the state’s law, so how is it that the Law of Diyat has come to supersede law of the country. We are perhaps the only country where the rich are given legal immunity from murder as long as they can afford to pay blood-money. This law only and only benefits the rich, and is hence in direct breach of the Constitution.

The acquittal of Shahrukh Jatoi and his accomplices in the Shahzeb Khan murder is another in-your-face example of how the Diyat law is misused and help acquit a man sentenced to death for brazenly taking a life

One of the religious basis for Diyat is to ensure matters don’t get violent or drag on in case of accidental death or involuntary murder. Nazim Jokhio’s killing was anything but accidental, it was premeditated and deeply intentional.

“Whoever takes a life — unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land — it will be as if they killed all of humanity” (5:32). This verse of the Holy Quran should ensure that forgiveness for heinous crimes like murder flow from the “community or its legal organs (state) and not the victim’s heirs”.

As punishment for murder has been legally watered down, even the ruling Pakistan People’s Party of Sindh hasn’t deemed it ethically necessary to suspend or remove its accused lawmaker Jam Awais, currently in jail. Let’s also not forget that the federal environment minister is also from the Pakistan People’s Party.

Earth’s ecology is only as strong as its weakest link. Planting trees alone will never, ever suffice if animals and birds facing extinction are not protected. And Houbara Bustards will go extinct if they continue to be used as a foreign policy concession in whatever geo-political empire we are trying to build on our planet at the cost of the very planet.

The world knows we are not responsible for the current deterioration of our climate, but we are definitely responsible for protecting the lives and legacy of our eco-warriors. If the killers of Nazim Jokhio are not brought to justice, environmental crimes will only increase because whistle-blowers will be too scared to come forward, and that will play right into the hands of the powerful mafias.

Nazim Jokhio’s murder is a national tragedy and a crime against the state. If he’s not provided justice, will Pakistan be in a moral position to expect environmental justice for itself.

Munazza Siddiqui
Munazza Siddiquihttp://narratives.com.pk
The writer is a senior journalist.

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