September 24th 2020
By Rehan Piracha
In yet another instance of a rape victim withdrawing her case, the suspect has been released from prison after a court in Rawalpindi granted him bail and allowed him to marry the victim inside the courtroom.
Tariq Niazi was accused of impregnating the 21-year-old woman after sexually assaulting her for about a year. He was also charged with dumping the dead body of the infant girl on a roadside; the baby was born out of his abusive relationship with the woman and had died in hospital.
Appearing before the Addtional Session Judge Jahangir Gondal for a bail hearing on September 22, Niazi’s defence counsel told the court that the rape suspect had been ‘forgiven’ by the victim, adding that the woman wished to withdraw the case as the couple planned to get married.
Not satisfied with the defence counsel’s remarks, the judge asked the victim who was present in the court whether she wished to marry the accused. The woman told the judge she had forgiven Niazi and wanted to marry him. The judge then asked the defence counsel to solemnise the marriage before the court could take up the accused’s bail application.
The defence counsel hastily arranged a Nikah registrar, Muhammad Ali, who solemnized the marriage during a break in the court proceedings. The suspect signed the Nikahnama with handcuffed hands while alimony was set at Rs 50,000. After the Nikah solemnisation, the defence counsel also distributed sweets among people present in the courtroom. The marriage certificate mentions that the woman was a divorcee. The right of divorce was crossed out on the certificate. The rape victim has a daughter from an earlier marriage.
After the marriage ceremony in the courtroom, the woman signed an affidavit and submitted it to the court. The couple told the court that they would live together as a family. The judge set bail at Rs 100,000 upon which the suspect’s brother presented the bail bonds. The court ordered the release of the suspect on the bail. Niazi was released from jail on September 23.
An infant’s body that led to the case
Originally the girl had told reporters that Niazi had assaulted her at his brother’s residence in Police Lines for two days. The girl alleged Tariq had then next kept her at two rented residences where she was assaulted multiple times by the accused. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter at home on July 15. The infant was taken to a hospital after due to breathing complications but died on a ventilator due to complications after four days, she had told reporters. The victim said the couple took the body of the infant from the hospital for burial but despite their insistence, the father of the child dumped the body near a mosque. The girl said Niazi told her that he could not bury the infant out of fear of being defamed. Police had registered a case at the time after a resident reported finding a dead body of an infant girl on July 20, 2020.
The girl had approached Saddar Police police for the registration of a rape case against Niazi who was arrested on September 10. The court had given physical remand of the suspect for DNA evidence till September 16. Niazi confessed to the police about the sexual assaults that subsequently led to the birth of the deceased infant girl during police investigation.
Rape victims can’t forgive accused
Rape is not a compoundable offence under the country’s laws whereby the complainants or victims cannot forgive the accused, according to Shabbir Hussain, a senior lawyer at Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell who has pleaded cases for many rape survivors in court. Speaking from years of experience of rape trial proceedings, Hussain said that it becomes quite difficult for a court to convict an accused if a rape victim withdraws the case or retracts earlier statements in court.
“A rape victim’s statement before the court is the primary evidence while other proofs like DNA tests are corroboratory evidence under the law, “ Hussain explains. “If the primary evidence was removed like a victim withdrawing his/her statement on oath, the court could not convict an accused based solely on corroborative evidence under the laws, he said. “It is one of the reasons for the low conviction rates in rape cases,” he said. The accused in such scenarios were usually acquitted due to lack of evidence, he added.