In what would appear at first glance a momentous day for Pakistan’s criminal justice system, typically fraught with cases where the innocent needlessly languish in prison, a Karachi court on January 10 exonerated a woman, Saima Farhan, and four of her family members, for their alleged involvement in a murder case.
However, it was too late for Saima, as she was exonerated seven months after her death in Central Jail, where she remained incarcerated for almost a year-and-a-half.
Saima, 35, who was an aalima and used to teach the Holy Quran to the person she was accused of killing, died in jail on June 14, 2021, due to severe abdominal and kidney issues. Jail authorities, in her death report, also revealed that she was a cancer patient.
‘We are poor people, what could we have done?’
Saima’s family said divine retribution certainly comes (Allah ki laathi be awaaz hai), adding that the court and the judge “served us justice”.
However, the pain of losing a loved one in the process continues to haunt them.
“Our sister died right before us while suffering in jail […] we are poor people, what could have we done for her? We were helpless,” Saima’s siblings said.
The defence counsel — Muhmmad Akbar Khan and his associate Sheikh Saqib Ahmed — while talking to Geo.tv said: “During the trial, Saima asked us at every hearing: ‘Wakeel sahib, hamein bail kab milegi? (when will we be granted bail)?”
The lawyers, however, lamented not being able to share the happy news that she was finally exonerated.
The case against Saima
Saima’s incarceration began on February 14, 2020, after she was arrested for allegedly poisoning her neighbour and friend, Rukhsar.
Rukhsar’s death occurred on February 24, 2019, in Karachi’s Civil Hospital, where she was rushed after her health deteriorated at her residence in Liaquatabad.
Following Rukhsar’s death, her mother, Shahnaz, sought to register a complaint against Saima and her family members for allegedly poisoning her daughter.
A first information report (FIR) was registered against Saima, as well as four of her immediate family members, at the Liaquatabad Police Station on September 12, 2019.
In the FIR, Rukhsar’s mother, Shahnaz, accused Saima and her family members of killing her daughter in a bid to usurp her property.
Saima’s sister, Nusrat Naz, brothers Muhammad Ali and Zahid Ali, and sister-in-law Asma Muhammad Ali were booked under Sections 302 (punishment for death or life imprisonment for murder) and 34 (when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Saima’s family members, speaking to Geo.tv, said the complainants built a “false case” against them with the “help of the police” to usurp the property Saima owned.
After the case was registered, Shahnaz sought the exhumation of her daughter’s grave to back her claim that Rukhsar had been poisoned by Saima and her family.
Once her body was exhumed, it was discovered that she died due to zinc phosphide — a compound used in pesticides such as rat poison — but the report categorically stated: “Manner of the death cannot be commented upon.” The report could sadly not establish whether the poison was self-consumed or given by another.
The court held in the final verdict that despite Rukhsar’s death due to poison, Saima and her family members could not be implicated in the crime.
Death amid trial
Murder charges against Saima were officially framed on February 6, 2021.
During the trial, her health started to deteriorate. The defence counsel moved repeated applications to get her treated. Upon the court’s direction, she was finally sent to Civil Hospital.
However, there were delays in her treatment.
On June 12, 2021, the judge ordered the investigation officer to take appropriate action against the jail authorities as they had “failed” to refer Saima to Ziauddin Hospital despite the court’s instructions.
A day later, she was rushed to Civil Hospital on an “emergency basis due to abdominal pain”, according to the prison medical officer’s report.
After she came back to prison from the hospital, Saima was due to visit the facility for further tests, but she died in prison the next day — June 14, 2021.
The trial continued in her absence, and after almost seven months, the judge on January 10, 2021, finally announced the verdict, declaring all the accused acquitted.
The additional district and sessions judge noted that the prosecution “miserably failed” to prove its case against 35-year-old Saima and four of her family members.
Even after winning a legal battle and emerging innocent, Saima’s family members still await action against the jail authorities, whose denial of her timely medical treatment led to her death.