AS it was ever going to be, so it is. Fakhra Yunus committed suicide in March 2012 and her death was met by a cacophony of calls for justice.
That the man accused of the brutality on her still roams free as an acquitted person, and the desperate death of Fakhra, have slipped away from our national conscience just like her life did, speaks volumes about the efficacy of our criminal justice system.
Fakhra Yunus was a dancing girl from Napier Road, Karachi whose family decided to stand up for justice against the son of one of the most powerful feudal landlords and famous politicians of this country: Bilal Mustafa Khar, son of Ghulam Mustafa Khar. This is the story of how they lost.
At the time Fakhra was defaced and disfigured through acid, she was staying at her sister-in-law’s house. Her sister, sister’s husband, his brother, and his mother were all in the house and recorded statements as witnesses.
Indeed, in the initial police report all of them claim to have seen Bilal Mustafa Khar, identified as Fakhra’s husband, walking into the house and going upstairs. They each also state that after a short while they saw Bilal running out of Fakhra’s room and Fakhra running after him trying to catch him, shrieking and clearly being burnt by acid claiming that Bilal had done this to her.
There are other details also mentioned by various witnesses, such as where they were standing, how they tried to catch Bilal etc.
In later statements before the police all the witnesses also state the same story. Crucially, they also mention in their statements that they have been receiving calls from Bilal Khar telling them not to say anything and threatening them.
In the intervening years, magazine reports have stated that Bilal Khar also called up Tehmina Durrani’s son and told him that he would shoot Tehmina Durrani in the knees and make her crawl if she did not stop supporting Fakhra.
After the incident Bilal went missing for a while. The police remained unable to locate him and he evaded arrest and trial. As part of the process of trying to find him newspaper advertisements were placed with pictures of Bilal Khar son of Ghulam Mustafa Khar, declaring that he was wanted in connection with these proceedings.
Eventually he was declared an absconder and a trial was held while he was absconding. In their statements to the court each of the witnesses again reiterate their stories. They claim that Fakhra was married to Bilal Khar, that they were having marital problems and Fakhra had moved into their house, that Bilal Khar came to talk to her and that after a while he ran out of her room while Fakhra ran after him with acid burning her face stating that Bilal had thrown the acid.
However, this is not where the story ended. Eventually Bilal Mustafa Khar was apprehended and the police brought him to trial. The prosecution had four witnesses all claiming more or less the same thing without much contradiction and in multiple statements — prosecution cases rarely get more slam-dunk than this.
However, when the trial commenced this time with Bilal Mustafa Khar in the dock, all of Fakhra’s family stated the same thing again but with one crucial difference: each one of Fakhra’s family members stated that while their statement about Bilal Khar coming and throwing the acid was true, the Bilal Khar that came to their house was not the Bilal Khar standing in the dock at the trial. The Bilal Khar that they now claimed came to their house was a small man with smallpox scars on his face. To justify their misunderstanding they stated that while they knew that Fakhra was married to a Bilal Khar, they had never seen her husband so could not be sure if the man in the dock was Fakhra’s husband.
That is all it took for the case to fall apart. If this was not the man that came then the police had the wrong man and there was no evidence in court linking this Bilal Mustafa Khar to the crime and no evidence that this Bilal Mustafa Khar was the husband of Fakhra. Thus Bilal Mustafa Khar was acquitted.
It is important to note that there are witness statements on the record that Bilal Mustafa Khar was threatening these witnesses. It is also important to note that Bilal Mustafa Khar’s pictures were printed as being wanted for this crime and at that stage as well no witness approached the police to say that the picture was not of the man who was in their house.
In the aftermath of her death Bilal Mustafa Khar came on television and openly admitted that he was indeed Fakhra’s husband, although he claimed he did not attack her with acid.
It is important to narrate the story to understand the reality of criminal justice in this country.
How is it that suddenly all of Fakhra’s family, including her sister refused to acknowledge that they even recognised her husband? Can it be that ultimately constant threats and harassment paid dividends and these poor people decided that they had had enough of taking him on — so they said it was not him?
The story of this trial is the story of naked power and threats winning out over justice. It is a damning indictment of the lack of equality in our system. It is a story that should keep us up at night every time we claim this country as a bastion of Islam.
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.