Murder, impunity and ‘honour’

Abdur Rauf Yousafzai and Muhammad Daud Khan report on the murder of Musarat Shaheen and her brother's fight for justice

Murder, impunity and ‘honour’
Musarat Shaheen married Syed Jamal Shah back in 1983. At the time she was aged only 14. Syed Jamal, her relative, lives in nearby village in the picturesque northern part of Pakistan, village Shaltalo Dehri in the Matta tehsil of Swat district. It was described as an “arranged marriage”. The elders of both families settled the marriage of the two without consent and certainly without waiting for the legal and proper marriageable age of the young girl.

It was, essentially a forced marriage: a practice which is strictly prohibited in Islamic law. Mufti Abdullah, who graduated from the Haqqaniya madrassah, talking about such forced marriages, is clear and unequivocal: they are a violation of the rules laid down in Islam’s Scripture. He further adds that in such cases the female is autonomous and independent to choose for herself and a legally-sanctioned marriage is the only right way according to the law of land.

For 34 years, she was subjected to domestic violence

Nevertheless, Musarat bowed her head and accepted the traditionally harsh decision of her family. Unfortunately, the whole matter was to end in tragedy – the death of Musarat herself.

Musarat had moved into her new home – a young girl in age but a married woman in terms of the responsibilities that came down upon her shoulders. Household chores were the least of this burden. She had to deal with a hostile attitude on the part of her new husband’s family, particularly her mother-in-law.

For 34 years, she was subjected to domestic violence. She was ever the ‘faithful wife’. According to her brother Zahir Shah, she never complained or asked for legal assistance from police – even when her hands and legs were broken by her cruel husband and unpleasant mother-in-law.

Travel records obtained from the authorities show Musarat's husband, accused of her murder, having left the country for Saudi Arabia

“At the time of her Islamic last rites, the women of our family saw axe marks on different parts of my sister’s body,” Zahir Shah discloses.

According to the documents, before her formal departure from her father’s home to Syed Jamal, the family elders’ jirga had wrote two tola jewelry and land equal to 30 tolas in dowry. But later her husband Syed Jamal had taken 2 tolas for business purposes and never fulfilled what was promised to Musarat at the time of nikah (marriage contract), her brother reveals.

The excuse for Musarat’s murder was, of course, entirely baseless. Her husband Syed Jamal is a wealthy transporter in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Due to an atmosphere of disturbances and quarrelling, one day, Jamal allegedly threatened her on the phone: “I am coming to Pakistan and this time will kill you!” Before her husband’s arrival, the terrified Pashtun woman, finally in 2016, left her home for an unknown destination. Such a journey could easily be seen as open rebellion in traditional society. But her purpose was only to find a peaceful shelter from her husband’s wrath.

According to her brother Zahir Shah, it was Musarat’s first and last trip outside. She was illiterate and had never been in a city, big or small. “She was living a miserable life with her in-laws. They were treating her worse than their animal. It was a life of great difficulties!” he says.
"I was on the way, when I received a call from my cousin. He told me to come back. 'There is no need for advice, Musarat is no more!'"

According to Musarat’s brother, he is fighting her murder case against a wealthy person in a system where justice is not only delayed but also denied.

“After the threat and long tormented life, my sister went missing. That she fled was obvious and it was on the cards, believe me: we were expecting that she might commit suicide but she was wise and brave and she chose otherwise.”  Zahir further adds: “When my sister was facing severe punishment daily, where were the so-called jirgas and villagers at that time? But when she rebelled against this male dominated situation, then she became a notorious criminal from the perspective of these manmade norms and traditional codes!”

The brother’s tone thunders, but his eyes are tearful.

The First Information Report (FIR) for her as a missing person was registered by her brother Muhammad Zahir Shah as she went missing. After 25 days with the help of cellular phone data, police recovered Musarat from a home in Rajanpur, South Punjab. For three weeks she lived there in the home of a maulvi (cleric). Police arrested Muhammad Parvez, 23, for charges of kidnapping and ‘illicit relations’.

During this time Musarat’s husband Syed Jamal postponed his arrival to Pakistan and was waiting for her recovery.

Despite the measures taken by Parliament and the government, campaigners believe it will be an uphill task to implement policies meant to protect women

So, rather than being protected by law, Musarat found herself under scrutiny. The trial started in Matta session court. On the court’s orders, medical examinations of Musarat and Muhammad Parvez were conducted – to determine whether they were involved in ‘illicit relations’ or not! The medical report, for its part, categorically ruled out sexual intercourse between the two. The copy of Musarat’s medical report, received during the investigation, is still available with these scribes.

Musarat was sent to Taimergrah Jail, where she remained behind bars for 15 months.

In the first week of February 2017, the court released Musarat and sentenced Muhammad Parvez for life imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 rupees, for a crime of kidnapping which he never committed. He is now serving out the sentence in Haripur jail. He was sent to jail under the Pakistan Penal Code, section 365 (b), which pertains to the following:

“Whoever kidnaps or abducts any woman with intent that she may be compelled, or

knowing it to be likely that she will be compelled, to marry any person against her will, or

in order that she may be forced, or seduced to illicit intercourse, or knowing it to be likely

that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse, shall be punished with

imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine; and whoever by means of criminal

intimidation as defined in this Code, or of abuse of authority or any other method of

compulsion, induces any woman to go from any place with intent that she may be, or

knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with

another person shall also be punishable as aforesaid.”

During the entire trial her husband didn’t appear in the village or before the court. When the court released Musarat, her husband got to know. And he came home with an aim.

In his view, Musarat had committed a ‘crime’. The crime of running away from home for women in a traditional family is not forgiven: often ending in killing in the name of family ‘honour’. On the day of his arrival, the husband called a family jirga (council) to decide Musarat’s fate.

Syed Jamal came to the gathering armed with a pistol. He told the family jirga to allow him to kill his wife Musarat on charges of eloping from home without permission. Muhammad Zahir Shah, her brother, was present there. He left the jirga to discuss the danger hovering over his sister’s life with his own family’s elders. He describes what happened next:

“I was on the way, when I received a call from my cousin. He told me to come back. ‘There is no need for advice, Musarat is no more!’”

Syed Jamal had killed her.

Instead of going home, Muhammad Zahir Shah rushed to nearby Matta police station. He informed the duty officer, requesting that Syed Jamal be arrested. The accused husband escaped from the scene on the same day. His travel document record is available. The system had allowed him to flee the country.

Matta Police registered the First Information Report (FIR) on 09 February, 2017. “Our system has many loopholes. We had tried to put the accused’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL), but at a lower level the process takes almost two months,” says Bakht Zada, who is Station House Officer at Matta.

In February 2017, when she had fled her home after her husband’s threat to her life, 34 years of a hellish life had ended for Musarat Shaheen.

“She was freed from a cage and from a life worse than life imprisonment, with physical and psychological torture.  She was shot dead – her soul was unchained by those who had denied her freedom for three and half decades. In daylight our sister Musarat Shaheen was brutally killed by her husband Syed Jamal. Her dead body was disgraced and dragged in village streets!” mourns Muhammad Zahir Shah. He adds, “Her husband’s family didn’t even allow her body to be buried in the family graveyard!”

As for the alleged perpetrator, according to the CDR record, on 07 February 2017, the accused Syed Jamal arrived in Peshawar International Airport, from Riyadh. After killing his wife, on 09 February, he departed from Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad to Tokyo. Musarat’s brother claims that now he is in Saudi Arabia. He also claims to have often received threatening calls with a Saudi code. The calls demand that he take back the FIR and ‘reconcile the enmity’ with his sister’s alleged murderer.

The list of “honour killings” is very long. Every year in interior Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, hundreds of such murder cases remain unreported. In the last few months, honour killing in the scenic Swat valey is on the rise. Police data records show that nine women have been murdered in the name of honour recently.

Last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), some 1,096 women were killed in the name of honour.

Last year, in October, during a joint session the Parliament unanimously approved anti-honour-killing and anti-rape bills moved by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar. The legislation on honour killings has introduced strict punishment for the convicts, making it tougher than the ordinary murder cases. After passing the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid told the media: “The police station will be obliged to inform the victims of their legal rights. We have made it mandatory that the culprit must be imprisoned for 25 years.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to ensure the “implementation of the legislation across the country” as he congratulated the Parliament and entire nation on the passage of a bill providing for strict punishment on honour killing. “I congratulate the Parliament, the NGOs, civil society, academia, media and all those who worked hard and supported us in the passage of this legislation,” he said in a statement.

The ground reality, though, is far from this. Experts say the honour killing law still has loopholes. And as always, influential people can overcome the investigation process and bribe the local police. In Musarat’s case, too, her brother Muhammad Zahir accused the local police station of failing to cooperate.

And so, her family awaits justice. Meanwhile, the cases of honour killing continue to add up every week.

Abdur Rauf Yousafzai reports for The Friday Times from FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He may be reached at and tweets at @raufabdur