The Islamabad High Court (IHC) is set to commence from next week hearings on the death sentence handed to Zahir Jaffer over his murder of Noor Mukadam, with the victim’s family hoping they will finally be accorded justice.
Zahir was sentenced to death in February by a court in Islamabad that also found him guilty of rape, handing him 25 years of rigorous punishment and a fine of Rs. 200,000. He has since challenged the death sentence and also filed an appeal for his acquittal. Speaking with Pakistan Standard, the Mukadam family’s counsel, Advocate Shah Khawar, said the IHC was likely to begin hearing the case on Oct. 5.
“We have also filed appeals against the acquittal of Zahir’s parents and TherapyWorks employees, as well as for the enhancement of jail sentences of the convict’s gardener and cook for their abetment in the crime,” he said, adding the IHC had clubbed together all the appeals so they would be decided simultaneously. Referring to concerns from the public of the case being prolonged—a common practice in Pakistan, where pending cases can sometimes take years to resolve—Khawar said he believed it could even be finished within a week. “If heard daily, the case will be decided in a week and if heard in intervals it will be decided in no more than four weeks,” he claimed.
However, Khawar’s confidence in the case’s conclusion is not matched by Zahir’s counsel, Advocate Sardar Usman Khosa, who maintains the case is “weak” and will be thrown out. “As a student of law, I understand that it’s a weak case for the prosecution as no one has seen the occurrence of the crime, therefore, prima facie it is a good case for the accused,” he told Pakistan Standard, stressing all available evidence was based on presumption.
“Presumption and evidence are two different things,” he continued, reiterating there was no evidence to convict Zahir. “The CCTV footage made part of evidence does not determine that Noor Mukadam was killed by Zahir Jaffer. Both Zahir and Noor were in a live-in relationship and she was with Zahir on her own will,” he alleged, repeating claims that had earlier been voiced during the trial. This optimism is a far cry from the views of Noor’s father, former diplomat Shaukat Mukadam, who expects the IHC to uphold the trial court’s decision on the basis of evidence, forensic reports and Zahir’s presence next to Noor’s body.
Nightmares for society
“It was a gruesome murder which created public commotion in Pakistan; caused nightmares among young girls who got extremely terrified by the grisly murder,” Shaukat told Pakistan Standard. Referring to the murder of Sara Inaam by her husband, Shahnawaz Amir, earlier this week, he opined that if Zahir had been hanged earlier, such murders would no longer happen.
Stressing he believed Noor’s case was a “test” for Pakistan’s judiciary, the former diplomat said everyone was waiting to see Zahir meet his fate. “We have also gone for appeal against acquittal of Zahir’s parents, who were fully cognizant and aware of what was happening in their house,” he said of the pending appeals. “It doesn’t matter whether they were sitting in London or Karachi, they could see everything through CCTV on their phones and they could have saved the situation, but they did not. We also expect punishment for the parents as well,” he added.
The Mukadams aren’t the only waiting on the IHC for its verdict. Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf told Pakistan Standard he expected the court to look at all aspects of the case and determine the veracity of the evidence on record. “The judges will sift the entire record and come to a conclusion which is just and fair,” he said, adding any attempts to prolong the case through adjournments would not favor the defense, as the available evidence was the sole measure of guilt and that could not be changed.
A key concern among observers of the case has been Zahir attempting to secure his release through an insanity plea, as he was often seen acting erratically during trial and even submitted a plea of being “mentally ill” to avoid prosecution. There were also reports of him being shifted to Adiala Jail Hospital after refusing to eat meals. Rubbishing this narrative, Adiala Jail Superintendent Ijaz Asghar told Pakistan Standard that Zahir’s behavior during his detention has been “normal” without any abnormalities.
Explaining that Zahir was in a death cell with two other prisoners, he said there had been no behavioral complaints. “I’ve been here for the last one month and have visited Zahir 4-5 times. Every time, I asked how he was doing, [and] his answer was ‘ok’ … he comes out of the cell during day time and evening for an entitled walk and no abnormality has been reported in his behavior,” he added.
With hearings slated to resume next week, all eyes are now on the IHC. Whether it upholds or annuls Zahir’s sentence could well shape the future direction of Pakistan’s society and the seemingly endless ‘femicide’ the country’s women have been victim to for far too long.
The grisly murder of Noor in Pakistan’s federal capital on July 20 sparked outrage both locally and globally, dominating headlines. The daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, she was found beheaded at the residence of Zahir, a U.S. national and heir to the Jaffer Group of Companies. He was subsequently charged with murder and taken into police custody for further investigation.
In his complaint, Noor’s father had stated his daughter had gone missing from their home in Islamabad on July 19. Attempts to contact her failed as her phone was shut off, he said, and a search was launched. A few hours later, he wrote in the FIR, Noor had called and informed them that she was traveling to Lahore with some friends and would return in a day or two. The FIR said Shaukat had also received a call from Zahir, whose family were acquaintances of the ex-diplomat, and been told that Noor was not with him. At around 10 p.m. on July 20, the victim’s father received a call from the Kohsar police station, informing him that Noor had been murdered. After identifying his daughter’s body, he sought the maximum punishment under the law against Zahir for murdering his daughter.
Zahir’s parents and household staff were subsequently arrested on July 24 over allegations of “hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime.” Police later said Zahir had confessed to killing Noor, adding that his DNA and fingerprints also showed his involvement in the crime. He has since recanted this.
Following investigations, a trial court indicted Zahir along with 11 others—his parents, three household staff, and the CEO and five employees of TherapyWorks—on Oct. 14. The murder trial formally began on Oct. 20 and concluded Feb. 24, with Zahir being sentenced to death for murder. The case has been pending appeal since then.