Rapist tried under new law to spend remaining life in jail

    In a first in Pakistan, a court in Islamabad has sentenced a rapist to imprisonment for the rest of his natural life for sexually assaulting a foreign national woman in April last year, her lawyer said.

    According to reports, Additional District and Sessions Judge Humayun Dilawar also imposed a fine of Rs1 million on the convict, Muhammad Safeer. The convict was an employee of a private security company and was assigned duty at the residence of the victim.

    The trial was completed in nine months as per the guidelines of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act, 2021.

    According to the victim’s lawyer Sharafat Ali, the accused was convicted under Section 376 (Rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the sentence (imprisonment for the remaining period of his natural life) handed to the accused was the first after the enactment of the Anti-Rape Act 2021.

    “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.

    According to Abbas, the victim 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 her statement through video as such facility is provided in the anti-rape act. The judge allowed our application so the statement and cross-examination of the rape survivor were done through video link,” he added.

    The court noted that the victim’s statement remained consistent throughout the trial, which was enough to convict 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, realising 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.

    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 medico-legal examination and registration of FIR [First Information Report] 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 provides an establishment of a special committee to oversee the implementation of the law. The committee has been notified and comprises public officials and rights activists.

    Lawyers and activists believe that cases highlighted in the media or those 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 percent.

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