ISLAMABAD: A group of Kohistani women who were allegedly sentenced to death for mingling with men and singing at a village wedding are alive and well, the Supreme Court was told on Thursday.
A team of social workers and the Hazara commissioner finally succeeded in meeting two of the five women, the court was told on Thursday.
“We met two of the girls, Shaheen and Amina. They are happy with their families,” said Farzana Bari, a social activist and one of the members of a fact-finding mission sent to the Beech Bela union council of Kohistan on the court’s orders to probe the incident.
Following the revelation, the entire courtroom breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God the incident is not true,” the Supreme Court observed. Earlier reports had suggested that a local jirga sentenced four women and two men to death after mobile phone footage emerged of them singing and mingling at a wedding in Kohistan, in defiance of strict tribal customs.
Officials insisted the women were safe, but the Supreme Court took up the case after reports surfaced that the women and one of their sisters had been killed.
The court was informed that the incident took place about 15 months ago.
Media reports were based on the statements of the two boys in the video and their brother Muhammad Afzal.
Afzal insisted that he would not believe that the girls were alive until they appeared before the court and proved their identities.
“I still say that they are dead. If they are alive, I will accept any punishment the court gives me,” he said, while addressing the media.
CJP ready to provide troops
Heading the bench, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said he was ready to send in the army unless he had a clear report on all the women. “We are even ready to provide you troops,” he said. “Delay will not help the operation. Either the girls will escape or be killed.”
The court also appreciated the Khyber-Pakhtukhwa administration and the federal government, particularly Rehman Malik, for providing assistance in contacting the women.
The court in its orders asked Attorney General Irfan Qadir to coordinate in arranging a meeting with the other three women and adjourned the case till June 20.
Meeting the victims
National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC) Chairperson Dr Fouzia Saeed, Dr Bari and the Hazara commissioner told the court that two of the Kohistani girls, Shaheen and Amina, were alive and bore no signs of torture.
Speaking about the language barrier, Riffat Butt of the National Commission on Status of Women said they recorded their entire conversation with the girls, which will be independently verified.
Dr Saeed told The Express Tribune that they took pictures of the girls to identify them, adding that they did not seem scared. “We wanted to bring the girls back but the administration said that the families would mind it.”
“We will produce them before the court when the weather gets better,” Commissioner Umarzai told The Express Tribune.
Media slammed for ‘drama’
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa information minister, also part of the visiting team, insisted again on Thursday that all the women were alive.
The minister said that the other three women, Bazgha Bibi, Begum Jan and Amina Bibi, were alive but the delegation could not met them since they were not at the village.
“The village jirga assured us that all the women were alive and safe,” the minister said.
He claimed that the reports of the killings were spread by Mohammad Afzal, adding that the government has already registered a case and stern action will be taken against those found responsible for spreading false news.
During the hearing, however, the chief justice gave credit to the media for bringing the issue to light, saying that the court was able to take care of the girls and get first-hand information.
(ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABDUR RAUF IN PESHAWAR)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2012.
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