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Pakistan: Justice Served

Saturday 25 December 2021, by siawi3


Justice served


Published December 19, 2021 - Updated a day ago

JUSTICE has finally been served in the high-profile murder nearly nine years ago of Perween Rahman, an ardent social activist who was unafraid to take on the powerful in defence of the weak. On Friday, an anti-terrorism court in Karachi sentenced four accused to two life terms each while awarding the fifth seven years behind bars. An architect and urban planner, and director of the world-renowned Orangi Pilot Project, Ms Rahman was shot dead in the metropolis on March 13, 2013, while going home from work. Even for a city inured to violence, where TTP militants were gaining an increasing foothold, it was a shocking crime. Why would anyone choose to target a woman who for three decades had employed her expertise not for personal advancement, but towards improving the quality of life for impoverished households in Orangi? However, those close to the low-key Ms Rahman knew that her pursuit of social justice in matters of land and water rights had earned her some implacable enemies, particularly those with high stakes in the city’s real estate.

The primary motive for the crime is believed to be Ms Rahman having resisted one of the five men convicted on Friday from illegally occupying land belonging to the OPP; a conspiracy was then hatched to eliminate her. But the investigation into the killing was deliberately botched, with law enforcement seemingly keen to draw a line under it no matter how implausible its claims, simply to silence the public uproar. Senior police command announced less than 24 hours after the incident that the gunman had been killed in an encounter; reports subsequently emerged showing how evidence had been destroyed and the case spoiled. The slain activist’s family and friends, however, were determined to bring the killers to book. Their years-long ordeal is a lesson in perseverance that the Supreme Court, moved by Ms Rahman’s selfless devotion to her less fortunate fellow citizens and the brutal way in which her life had been cut short, fully supported. Over the years, no less than three JITs were ordered to investigate the assassination.

The culpability of the land mafia emerged as a compelling factor and helped achieve the conviction of the accused. Fierce contestation over Karachi’s precious real estate has been recognised as a root cause of urban violence that has flared up in the city from time to time. The second JIT report pointed out: “…often murders that were declared as being politically motivated or acts of terrorism, were in actual fact land disputes that were made to look like political killings to cover up the real facts.” It described the accused as “small-time gangsters” typical of those “used as foot soldiers by the land mafia”. Unfortunately, Ms Rahman paid the ultimate price in an unequal contest where power trumps all. At least this time, there has been some accountability.