March 19, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
An Additional District and Sessions court in Islamabad has sentenced a man, accused of raping a foreign national woman, to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life.
The court also imposed a fine of one million Rupees on the convict, Muhammad Safeer. The convict was an employee of the private security company and had been deployed to the residence of the rape survivor as her security guard.
The trial was completed in nine months as per the guidelines of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act, 2021 in a special court of additional session judge Humayun Dilawar
The rape incident occurred on April, 2022, when Muhammad Safeer (the convict) entered the complainant’s bedroom and raped her. The survivor made all-out efforts to escape the room but the convict overpowered her and failed all her attempts to run away.
‘First instance of imprisonment for rest of life’
According to Sharafat Ali, the counsel for the survivor, the accused was convicted under Section 376 (Rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the sentence (imprisonment for the remainder period of his natural life) handed over to the accused is a first instance after the enactment of the Anti-Rape Act 2021.
The sentence was introduced in the PPC through the Anti Rape, which had been enacted to make the punishments more stringent and to remove lacunae from the law which was needed to enhance the conviction rate.
“Besides the quantum of punishment, many other provisions such as DNA evidence were employed by the court for an early completion of trial and conviction in this case”, said Public Prosecutor Rana Hassan Abbas.
Rana Hassan told Voicepk that the survivor left Pakistan soon after the incident and it became an issue of how the court would record her statement.
“We requested the court to allow the complainant to record the statement through video, as such facility is provided in the anti-rape act. The Court allowed our application so the statement and cross-examination of the rape survivor were done through video link.”
‘Survivor’s statement alone is enough to convict rapist’
The court noted that the survivor’s statement remained consistent throughout the trial, which is enough to bring conviction to the accused.
“The contents of the application and her statement recorded in trial reflects acute trauma undergone by the victim. Even during recording the statement of the victim, the court observed her still in shock, depicting she had gone through very stressful, frightening and distressing events. She was subjected to cross-examination nevertheless her testimony could not be shattered and she stood consistent rather such cross-examination is found frail making thus no dent in her testimony. Her statement was of sterling quality and was confidence inspiring which alone is sufficient to award punishment to the accused”, the order said.
The court also rejected the defence counsel’s plea that no semen stains were found on the body. The court stated, “Though the internal and external vaginal swabs were not found to have some semen stains but it is quite natural as the accused must have resorted to safe sex, realizing the consequences of conceiving the pregnancy.
The court also relied on the DNA evidence that corroborated the statement of the survivor. The police gathered a hair sample from the crime scene and sent it for forensic examination. The forensic report stated, “that the DNA profile obtained from item no 15.5 (hair with roots) is consistent with the DNA profile of Muhammad Safeer.”
The court also noted that “another factor establishing the guilt of the accused is that he remained absent from his duty after the occurrence and was hiding. Had he been innocent he would have not escaped the process of law. The accused was primarily deputed for the safety and security of the complainant/victim, instead he raped her.”
“The ocular, circumstantial and medical evidence, as adduced in the case, fits in each other making them a synchronized whole and so the charge against the accused has been proved beyond shadow of any reasonable doubt”, the order said.
Lawyer Sharafat Ali told Voicepk that initially the rape survivor was not optimistic about getting justice but now she is content with the verdict.
During the nine-month trial, the survivor did not display any level of trust in our justice system but now she seems satisfied with the verdict,” he said, adding that, “It was a good omen for Pakistan that a foreign national had reposed confidence in the country’s justice system.”
Anti-rape act still not fully implemented
The anti-rape act was enacted in 2021 to ensure expeditious redressal of rape and sexual abuse crimes in respect of women and children through special investigation teams and special courts providing for efficacious procedures, and speedy trial.
The act envisages special procedures and the establishment of anti-rape crisis cells to provide a one-stop solution including medio legal examination and registration of FIR to the survivor and the family. However, the anti-rape crisis cells have not been established even after many months and the rape survivors have to go back and forth for registration of FIR.
The law also provide an establishment of a special committee to oversee the implementation of the law. The committee has been notified and comprised of public officials and rights activists.
Sharafat Ali, who is also a member of the committee said that the committee has formulated and notified rules regarding the Investigation, trial, and register of sex offenders.
“However, the anti-rape crisis cells, which are a unique feature of this act, have not been functional in every district as per the requirement of the law”.
The federal government said that the anti-rape crisis cells have been established in KP and Islamabad Capital Territory.
Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice told Voicepk that the anti-rape crisis cells would be notified and established in Punjab in the next few days as all the paper work have been already completed.
The lawyers believe that cases which get highlighted in the media or the cases involving high-profile people usually get preferential or special treatment in courts. They say that the anti-rape act has not been able to improve the conviction rate in rape cases which stands at approximately three per cent .
Rana Hassan Abbas says that the anti-rape act on its own cannot improve the conviction rate in rape cases.
“The act only provides the procedure of trial. The conviction rate depends on the investigation of the case. However, with the establishment of special courts to try rape suspects, things are getting better.”
Sharafat Ali says that to reap the benefits of the news act much more resources and commitment from the federal and provincial governments are required to implement the anti-rape act in letter & spirit
The lawyers were of the opinion that the new anti-rape legislation is a good step but all the key stakeholders of the criminal justice system need to be adequately trained to get better results in form of an increased conviction rate.
AGHS trained over 350 officials about the new law
In this context, the Asma Jahangir legal aid cell (AGHS) has been conducting the training of government officials including judges, prosecutors and police to make them well verse with the law for its effective implementation. The AGHS has also conducted training sessions for independent support advisors aware of their responsibilities and powers given in the act.
“Since January 2022, the AGHS has conducted over 15 training sessions with members of district judiciary, Police investigating officers and public prosecutors throughout the country. In these training sessions over 350 officials were trained and aware of the intricacies of the new law”, said Tamara Saleem, in charge of the training program.
She also mentioned that the core purpose of the training module is to impart gender sensitivity to the officials.