A case of rape, attempted murder, corruption and impunity that took place in 2008 and 2009 continues to haunt two girls in Hyderabad, Sindh. 

The incident involved members of MQM, but police have failed to protect the victims – two sisters – and have released a poor, gender-biased investigation report. The report reduces the case to that of a family ‘feud’. It does not address the year-long struggle of the women to have the case credibly filed and investigated.

Sisters Zainab Zia, 24 and Shehla Zia, 21 suffered rape, acid burning, attempted abduction, beatings, death threats and an attempt to have them certified in a psychiatric unit. A network of provincial ruling party members was implicated, while police officers connected to the case displayed willful negligence.

The inquiry report by the District Police Officer concludes that the series of violent, criminal incidents did not take place and that the matter ‘pertains to an ongoing feud’ between the families. Among the failures of the report are a number of significant omissions, including the involvement of the accused and his accomplices with MQM.

The two women’s access to the law was blocked many times by law enforcement officers.

The victims say that during the months of September and October 2008 they attempted to lodge an FIR several times, but that each time they were blocked by Station Head Officer (SHO) Hassan Ali Abdi, a former MQM member and apparent associate of the perpetrator. An investigation into MQM influence over the Hyderabad Police Station, and into the objectivism of SHO Hassan Ali Abdi remains central to this case. It is of concern that even though SHO Ali Abdi was able to interrupt due process, a legitimate investigation being carried out by Inspector Nasir Nawab was reportedly interrupted; he was suspended and his investigation stopped. Neither of these allegations is responded to in the police report.

The DPO does however make sustained references to the private and personal life of the rape victim and her sister, resulting in a clear defamation of their characters. In his dismissal of the likelihood of rape he reasons that: “It also seems hard to explain that after such heinous/ serious allegations involving the rape of her daughter, the mother can still maintain cordial relations with her son-in-law’.

The district police officer also questions the women’s relationship to Saleem Qaudri, who was reported to have helped rescue them from being burned, before sheltering them and marrying Zainab. The marriage was a preemptive move: it only partially saved him from later attempts by the perpetrators to accuse him of the abduction and rape of the women (he was arrested and had to appear in court). Rather than mention this, the report labels him derisively as a ‘soul healer’ who ‘fully controls and manipulates both girls’.

The District Officer’s report makes no reference to the fact that police protection was applied for by the women, and refused.

Though the report asserts clearly that it was three months before Zainab underwent a police-sanctioned medical examination for rape, it has not looked into why this crucial step was delayed. We are told that the police actively refused to provide the legal papers needed at the hospital. Although the eventual examination was unsurprisingly inconclusive due to this, the DPO instead chooses to single out the doctor’s comment that “she has been married for 2 months, so it is not possible to find any sign of rape in a married women”.

Witnesses to the rape and acid-throwing incident have not been given sufficient protection by police and they report having received threats from those linked to the party in office.

The delays in processing this case, and the degree to which political influence is involved must also be thoroughly investigated and explained. The report shows extremely strong signs of impunity. In his failure to mention the link of MQM members to the case the DPO has not mentioned or investigated several allegations, including an attempt to forcibly admit the victims into a psychiatric hospital, the refusal of police to file a case of abduction, an attack on Saleem Qaudri in a local restaurant and the suspension of Inspector Nasir Nawab during his investigation.

At this level of inaction a judicial and law enforcement system begins to lose every visible trace of independence and creditability. Without strong, decisive and transparent action against persons who commit human rights violations, the law will continue to resemble a commodity, available for those who can afford to trade in it.