Stu­dent stabbed 23 times fights for jus­tice

Al­leged at­tacker walks free


LAHORE, Pak­istan, June 14, (AFP): A Pak­istani law stu­dent has emerged as a women’s rights cru­sader af­ter she was stabbed 23 times in a busy street only to see her al­leged at­tacker walk free, ig­nit­ing out­rage across the deeply pa­tri­ar­chal coun­try.

Khadija Sid­diqui, 23, sur­vived the fren­zied at­tack in broad daylight out­side her sis­ter’s school on a busy thor­ough­fare in the teem­ing eastern city of Lahore, Pak­istan’s cul­tural cap­i­tal, in May 2016.

Her sis­ter was also in­jured as she tried to de­fend her, and the brazen at­tack only ended when her driver man­aged to pull the as­sailant off and rush Sid­diqui to hos­pi­tal, where she was ad­mit­ted to in­ten­sive care with her neck slashed, her arms wounded, and a deep in­jury to her back.

Sid­diqui named her at­tacker as Shah Hus­sain, a class­mate whom she had re­jected ro­man­ti­cally. He was con­victed and sen­tenced to seven years in prison in July 2017.

But Hus­sain, the son of a prom­i­nent La­hori lawyer, ap­pealed the de­ci­sion — and in a shock judge­ment re­leased on June 4, the Lahore High Court ac­quit­ted him on all charges.

The de­ci­sion was greeted with an up­roar in Pak­istan, where hun­dreds of women are mur­dered and at­tacked by men each year, with many strug­gling to get jus­tice in a slug­gish court sys­tem that ad­vo­cates say is of­ten slanted against them.

“I was shocked,” Sid­diqui, who spent three weeks in hos­pi­tal af­ter the at­tack and whose back still pains her, told AFP. “But un­for­tu­nately it was true.”

Sid­diqui’s long strug­gle to put her at­tacker be­hind bars had al­ready drawn at­ten­tion from women’s rights cam­paign­ers, but when Hus­sain walked free it un­leashed a wave of anger.

“I am heart bro­ken, speech­less, shat­tered af­ter hear­ing what our ju­di­ciary sys­tem did to you @khadeeeej751 —

mostly for­eign­ers in­clud­ing rid­ers from the UK, Ger­many, Italy and Switzer­land. (AFP)

In­sur­gents burned down clinic:

The gover­nor of eastern Afghanistan’s Nuris­tan Prov­ince says a clinic that was pro­vid­ing med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties for more than 2,000 peo­ple has been burned down by in­sur­gents.

Hafiz Ab­dul Qaum says the at­tack hap­pened early Thurs­day in Kamdesh dis­trict and seven staff mem­bers were taken hostage, with five later freed. But do not give up, keep fight­ing, and we shall over­come this together,” tweeted ac­tress Urwa Ho­cane.

Hamza Ali Ab­basi, another TV per­son­al­ity and ac­tivist, com­mented: “We must all unite & be Khadija’s voice & leave no stone un­turned to get her jus­tice against this bar­bar­ian! #WeAreWithKhadija”.

The hash­tag was trend­ing in Pak­istan within hours of the ac­quit­tal.

The re­ac­tion in­ten­si­fied when the court’s judge­ment was re­leased, with crit­ics ac­cus­ing it of “vic­tim-blam­ing” af­ter it poked holes in Sid­diqui’s cred­i­bil­ity.

The judge­ment ques­tioned why she did not name Hus­sain as her at­tacker im­me­di­ately, de­spite tes­ti­mony say­ing she had fallen un­con­scious; and noted that at one point prior to the as­sault she had writ­ten a let­ter propos­ing mar­riage to him. The out­cry was so great that Pak­istan’s Supreme Court has now taken up the case and will hold hear­ings later in the sum­mer, it an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

Hashmi, Hus­sain’s father, has told AFP that his child is in­no­cent. “My son is a bril­liant stu­dent,” he said. “How can he be a crim­i­nal?”

Sid­diqui’s case high­lights how Pak­istan’s ju­di­cial sys­tem fails women, says Hina Ji­lani, a lead­ing lawyer and hu­man rights ac­tivist.

The young law stu­dent is lucky in that she re­ceived high-pro­file sup­port and it came to the Supreme Court’s at­ten­tion, Ji­lani says — but that is rare.

“There is a prej­u­dice against women,” she ar­gues.

Pak­istan is deeply con­ser­va­tive, and vi­o­lence against women re­mained “per­va­sive and in­tractable” in 2017, ac­cord­ing a yearly re­port by the coun­try’s Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

It doc­u­mented thou­sands of re­ported vi­o­lent in­ci­dents in­clud­ing rapes, as­saults, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, acid at­tacks, mur­ders, and even four ex­am­ples of “stove burn­ing” — un­der­stood to be

Qaum says two doc­tors are still be­ing held by the in­sur­gents. He said all the fa­cil­ity’s equip­ment was burned.

Zak­i­ul­lah Storay, head of the health de­port­ment in the prov­ince, said the fa­cil­ity was im­por­tant, with 20 beds for peo­ple living in the ru­ral area. (AP)

Afghan poll preps marred:

In­fight­ing, a lack of ex­per­tise and un­filled va­can­cies within Afghanistan’s elec­tion body raise doubts about whether polls planned this year can be held on time, ac­cord­ing to when a woman is taken into a kitchen, cov­ered in kerosene and set alight; then the per­pe­tra­tors claim she was burned by the stove.

The real fig­ures, the com­mis­sion said, are likely to be much higher.

Many cases of vi­o­lence against women are not re­ported to au­thor­i­ties. In ru­ral ar­eas such cases of­ten by­pass the for­mal jus­tice sys­tem and are dealt with by vil­lage “jir­gas” or coun­cils, of­ten in a man­ner that is puni­tive for women.

But even for those cases which do en­ter the court sys­tem, the con­vic­tion rate is “below one per­cent”, says Rabeea Hadi, an ac­tivist with the Au­rat Foun­da­tion, a women’s rights watch­dog.

In cases of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse, it is “al­most zero”, adds An­breen Ajaib, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of another women’s rights group, Bedari.

Sid­diqui says women, in­clud­ing her­self, are of­ten pres­sured to drop their cases, and can face black­mail and ha­rass­ment.

But she is de­ter­mined to see hers through, and says the at­ten­tion it has re­ceived has prompted many women to con­tact her to say they, too, are en­cour­aged to stand up for them­selves.

A Pak­istani group linked to the deadly 2008 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks was de­nied per­mis­sion Wed­nes­day to reg­is­ter as a po­lit­i­cal party just weeks be­fore na­tional polls, of­fi­cials said.

The Milli Mus­lim League (MML) was launched last Au­gust to con­test the July 25 elec­tions, which will be only the sec­ond demo­cratic trans­fer of power in Pak­istan’s his­tory.

But the group was black­listed by the US in April as Wash­ing­ton ramped up pres­sure on Is­lam­abad to crack down on ex­trem­ist groups oper­at­ing in the coun­try.

On Wed­nes­day the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of­fi­cially re­jected their ap­pli­ca­tion to reg­is­ter as a po­lit­i­cal party.

Afghan and in­ter­na­tional agency of­fi­cials, with one liken­ing plan­ning meet­ings to “a fish mar­ket”.

Oc­to­ber’s vote, al­ready much-de­layed, is seen as a cru­cial test for democ­racy in a coun­try at war for four decades, and comes amid in­creas­ing at­tacks by Tale­ban and Is­lamic State in­sur­gents who have threat­ened to tar­get the elec­toral process.

But in the last six months, the chair­man and CEO of the In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (IEC), have been sacked, and an act­ing CEO quit. The head of hu­man re­sources was also sacked this month, hav­ing failed to hire hun­dreds of pro­vin­cial elec­toral of­fi­cers.

“Four months be­fore the polls, they are still at the plan­ning stage,” a high-rank­ing in­ter­na­tional aid worker told Reuters. “You can­not play a foot­ball match with half of your team miss­ing. There are times when we have wit­nessed shout­ing matches in the IEC of­fice. It’s like a fish mar­ket.”

Seven of the 10 top po­si­tions at the sec­re­tar­iat in Kabul, which over­sees com­mis­sion of­fices across 34 prov­inces, have yet to be filled.

The par­lia­men­tary and dis­trict coun­cil elec­tions have al­ready been put back from 2014 due to a lack of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus on elec­toral re­forms and a short­age of funds.

The polls are seen as a dry run for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and a key test of the cred­i­bil­ity of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani’s gov­ern­ment, which has been un­der pres­sure from its in­ter­na­tional back­ers to en­sure the vote takes place since the last, fraud-tainted pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2014.

The United Na­tions, over­see­ing the elec­tion process, and the United States, lead­ing in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary ef­forts to force the Tale­ban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table, are hop­ing for elec­tions that at least ap­pear to be mostly free and fair. (RTRS)

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