Mystery shrouds Murree teacher’s death

Grey areas in both police investigation and SCBA fact-finding mission reports


Arsalan Altaf/farman Ali August 02, 2016

MURREE/ ISLAMABAD: Find the odd one out of the three: Maria Sadaqat, Qandeel Baloch and Samia Shahid?

If you think Qandeel was the “odd” one you are wrong. She was just being herself. If you pick Samia for being a relatively unknown name, you are somewhat wrong again. You will know her well as the country she was a national of speaks even louder for her.

Murree teacher’s suicide? SCBA contests police claim

All the three had so much in common. They were young women. They were their own persons. And they were killed under unexplained circumstances. Yet there is something that makes Maria Sadaqat the odd one out.

The murderers of the latter two won’t escape easily. Everyone is watching and the government is warily alert.

Conversely, Maria was an ordinary girl. She was neither a celebrity nor a foreign national. The way her case has been handled so far, there are already signs that true reason and circumstances of her death may never be known, unless a fresh, impartial investigation is conducted into the case.

Maria, 19, died of burn injuries at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) on June 1, after struggling for life for almost two days. The police have declared her death a suicide. The court has granted bail to all the suspects whereas a fact-finding mission has raised questions over the investigation while complaining about non-cooperation from the police.

Family claims

On May 30, the day the incident happened, Maria, the eldest of six siblings, was at her home in Dewal village of Murree along with her youngest sister. Her family had gone to condole the death of a relative in a nearby village. Upon being informed of the incident by neighbours, the family rushed home and found Maria with burn injuries. According to them, Maria said five men set her on fire just outside her house at around 11:40am. “She could identify only two of them — Shaukat Mehmood and Mian Arshad”, says Rafaqat, Maria’s uncle.

Following the victim’s statement, the Murree police booked Shaukat, his younger brother Riffat Mehmood, and Mian Arshad. Later, the police also arrested Shaukat’s son Haroonur Rasheed.

Police investigation

Meanwhile, a police team headed by DIG Abubakar Khuda Bakhsh took over the investigation on June 16. It declared the death a suicide and the three suspects innocent.

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“There is strong evidence that the suspects nominated in the FIR were not present at the place of incident,” the investigation report reads. It also says that the forensic examination did not detect fingerprints of any of the suspects on samples of burnt pieces of clothes or ignitable liquid found from the crime scene. Their polygraph tests were also clear, says the report.

A Pims burn centre doctor, who was also interviewed by the investigation team, says Maria did not give any statement. “She was in trauma. Whenever somebody asked her something, she started crying.”

The police report also notes that the route the suspects took according to the FIR to reach Maria’s house was impassable considering the terrain and the ages of the suspects. The report also says that Maria was pressured by her family to name specific persons.

Dr Ruqayya Rukhsar at the Phagwari Rural Health Centre told the investigation team that when Maria was brought to the centre for first aid, the focus of her family was on the statement rather than treatment. “They forced her to name specific persons. They continued until she uttered the names they wanted,” the report quotes the doctor as saying.

However, the family contested this and accused the doctor of destroying the evidence and referring Maria to Rawalpindi district headquarters hospital despite knowing that there was no burn centre at the hospital.

Love tangle

According to the police, Haroon, 27, already engaged with another woman, developed a relationship with Maria when she started teaching at the school run by his father, Shaukat, in March 2014 where he was an administrator.

Police said Haroon, also purchased a mobile phone and a SIM card in his name for Maria.

Mobile phone record shows that she sent several text messages to Haroon the day before the incident, requesting him to respond to her messages and calls. In the last text she sent at 7:23am on May 30, Maria said you would be responsible for my death if you did not respond to my message today.

“Between 01-05-2016 and 30-05-2016, there were 6,248 calls and messages between Maria and Haroon … This shows that the ‘love story’ between the two was the reason behind Maria’s death,” says the police report.

Maria’s mother denies her daughter had a relationship or contact with Haroon. “She did not have a mobile phone,” she says. Instead, she says, Shaukat had asked for Maria’s hand for his son which they refused. Shaukat denies this.

Police say Haroon had promised Maria to marry her and when he ended the relationship, she was distraught.

The police investigation found Haroon indirectly responsible for Maria’s tragic death, or ‘qatl-bis-sabab’ under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Circumstances arising out of the criminal negligence on the part of Haroon by emotionally exploiting her to a point of no return compelled Maria to commit suicide, says the report.

The report also holds Haroon responsible for Maria’s death as he did not inform the police about her text messages threatening to kill herself. He continued his ‘love affair’ with the girl despite knowing the fact that her marriage to another man has been decided and was going to tie the knot on June 4, says the report.

Haroon, on bail, is now in hiding in Rawalpindi and unapproachable.

Loan and litigation

While talking to the suspects, The Express Tribune came to know that Maria’s father owed Rs133,000 to Shaukat. A day before the incident, Shaukat had an exchange of harsh words with Sadaqat at the latter’s auto-shop.

There was another dispute between the victim’s family and one of the suspects. Maria’s uncle was booked and arrested for allegedly beating up his wife, who is the sister-in-law of Mian Arshad. This case is still pending in the court.

SCBA committee

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) constituted a three-member committee comprising its former presidents Asma Jahangir, Kamran Murtaza and Tehmina Muhibullah to investigate the incident.

The mission, after visiting the victim’s family and the neighbourhood, in its report notes that the allegation that Maria committed suicide “did not seem to be correct because her entire body was burnt except her hands, feet and face”.

The mission says that there was a concerted effort to paint the incident as a suicide.

“We have only one version of the story. There are grey areas on both sides. We do not know whether the suspects committed the crime or not but prima facie, it seems the girl did not commit suicide,” says Murtaza accusing police of non-cooperation, as a result of which, the mission says, they could not meet the suspects to get their side of the story. He said they had also not seen the police report.

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SCBA has also appointed a lawyer to pursue the case on behalf of the victim’s family.

Maria’s father claims police had been bribed to exonerate the suspects. The family also insists the statement Maria recorded and signed at the Phagwari health centre had also vanished.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2016.

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