24th October 2021
By Asra Haque
In its written order issued on Friday, October 22, the Supreme Court awarded bail to Asmat Zakir Jaffer, née Adamjee, mother of the prime accused in Noor Mukadam’s murder, Zahir Jaffer, on the basis of being a woman.
Zakir Jaffer and his wife approached the Supreme Court after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) turned down their bail pleas on September 29. A three-member bench comprised of Justice Umar Atta Bandial, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed on Monday granted bail to Asmat Adamjee while Zakir Jaffer’s application was rejected.
In the written verdict which was made available on Friday, the top court ordered that Asmat be released on bail against a surety bond of Rs. 1 million to be furnished to the trial court, and that her name be retained on the exit control list (ECL). The Supreme Court also directed that her bail will be immediately withdrawn should she misuse it in any manner, including causing delay in the expeditious conclusion of the trial or influencing the prosecution witnesses.
“We consider that the petitioner being a woman may be granted bail under the first proviso to section 497(1), Cr.P.C in absence of any circumstances that may justify declining this relief to her,” the judgment read. During the hearing on Monday, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah remarked that the prime accused’s mother knew as much as his father about the incident, adding that “Let us grant her a bail on the basis that she is a woman; let’s not go into the matter on the basis of merit.”
The concerned section 497(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C) states that the court may extend the relief of bail to persons under the age of 16 years, women or ill individuals in non-bailable offences. Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee were charged with sections 109 (abetment), 118 (concealing designs to commit an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life), 176 (deliberately omitting information), 201 (concealing evidence or giving false information) and 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or for a shorter terms) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Of these, only section 109 can carry the death penalty if the accused abetted a murder.
Social media users expressed their shock and disappointment at the Supreme Court’s decision to award bail to Zahir Jaffer’s mother on the basis of her sex rather than the merits of the case.
Zahirs mother made 11 phone calls to him while he was torturing and killing a young woman. Not one of those calls was made to the police. How does the court explain her bail? https://t.co/3ioxMJzYO6
— fatima bhutto (@fbhutto) October 18, 2021
Parents of the murderer of #NoorMukadam arrested for abetment to murder, mother released on bail because of her gender? That too after his own confession in court: “Mere waldain keh rahe thae sub theek hojaye ga.”
What kind of a justice system do we have in 2021?
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) October 18, 2021
Others have prompted that Asmat Adamjee’s influence and privilege had a role to play in her immediate release.
It is disappointing, but rich people get away with this shit all the time! https://t.co/bJuWmpNybi
— Adeel Raja (@adeelraja) October 18, 2021
Why is the Supreme Court more sympathetic to #asmatadamjee than #noormuqaddam? It boils down to privilege despite the fact that one is an accessory to murder & the other the victim of a gruesome inhumane crime. #JusticeForNoor #ZahirJaffer
— Maheen Usmani (@MaheenUsmani) October 19, 2021
Karachi-based human rights activist and lawyer Mohammad Jibran Nasir also pointed out that women who can afford their lawyers’ fees and pay bonds are the ones who can actually benefit from this relief.
“It is a good law in principle but its implementation leaves much to be desired,” he expressed his opinion to Voicepk.net. Referring to a 2020 report by Human Rights Watch, 66 percent of female prisoners were not convicted of any offense and were detained while still awaiting conclusion of their trial. “Asmat Adamjee was granted bail by the Supreme Court because she has the resources to fight her case all the way from the trial court to the Supreme Court, and pay any bail amount whether ten million or a hundred million.”
He was of the view that the law had been ushered in to facilitate and give leniency to women on the basis of their gender, however this relief is only being extended to women based on their socio-economic class.
“The 66 percent of women prisoners are not stuck in jails because they want to,” Nasir said. “They cannot afford lawyers or bail. This is a fact.”
Rubina Shaheen, AGHS Legal Aid Cell’s Women Protection Officer who has spent decades visiting prisons in Punjab and identifying women and children in need of legal aid, provided that the female prisoners she comes across belong to economically weak backgrounds.
“Women can spend several months or years in jail awaiting trial,” she said. “Most women who are able to access a lawyer usually are granted bail on the basis of their gender, but even they have to wait for months before their trial.”
According to a 2020 fact-finding report based on official data compiled by the Ministry of Human Rights, 1,121 out of 73,242 recorded prisoners in Pakistan are female, amounting to 1.5% of the total prison population. The largest female prison population was recorded for Punjab (727), followed by Sindh (205) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (166). In 2020, there were only 20 female prisoners in Balochistan and three in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Statistics collated by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) revealed slightly higher numbers for the four provinces while there was no information available for Gilgit-Baltistan. Punjab once again held the largest number of female prisoners (933), followed by Sindh (243), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (185) and Balochistan (30), totaling to 1,391 across Pakistan.