Sher Muhammad is Kanizan Bibi’s father, a Pakistani woman who has been on death row since 1989. He wrote this letter to the president of Pakistan in 2016, translated here by Rimmel Mohydin of Justice Project Pakistan.
Dear Mr President,
I’m a poor man. I don’t have much. But what I do have is a daughter. Kanizan is my only child. Even when she could talk, she wouldn’t speak much.
She was a timid child, who never talked back. She would do as she was told, and never say no. She would cry easily, as fragile as her little wrists.
Because Kanizan was so delicate, she was very attached to her mother, often seeking shelter in her arms. She looked just like her mother, the same complexion, the same round face.
But this comfort was taken away from her all too quickly. My wife died very suddenly, leaving Kanizan and me completely alone in the world.
I was a farmer, but money had become tough. What little I had eventually turned to nothing. Luckily, I still had Kanizan.
She used to help me around the house but when she saw how difficult it had become to put food on the table, she told me she wanted to work. I hesitated at first. I had been unable to put Kanizan in school. What would she do?
Kanizan began working as a housemaid for a rich, landowning family. She was little more than a child herself.
It is no wonder that she quickly befriended the very children she was charged with taking care of, the children of Muhammad Khan.
Their mother would often admonish her for not being more responsible with them, considering she would play with them more.
She began contributing what little she could. It was not much, but it was a helping hand. I could not be more grateful for this lifeline.
But Sir, this did not last.
The murder took place not too far from where we lived in Kamaliya. I will never forget the way Muhammad Khan screamed when he saw his wife and children murdered.
Muhammad Khan and his family had been involved in a property dispute that had started to get uglier by the day. The police had asked him at the scene of the crime if he had any enemies. He had named four of them, all his cousins. The police registered a case against them.
They were in jail for about two days. Bail is easy to come by when money is not a concern.
One night, Kanizan and I were about to have dinner when there was a knock on our door. Our village elder, Allah Yar, was at the door. He looked solemn, but determined.
He told me that people had started to talk, that someone had to be punished. He looked at Kanizan, who was sitting in the corner of the room.
Allah Yar looked me in the eye, put his hand on his heart, and said, “I swear by the Quran, I know your daughter is innocent, but let me take her to the police station.” They’ll question her, and she’ll be home in the morning, he promised.
She never came back.
Kanizan had played with those children, loved them, cared for them. She would tell me all about them. When she heard of their killing, she was utterly distraught. Naively, she thought she would be helping the police find their killer. She agreed to go.
Allah Yar took her to the police station, and left her there. Kanizan was 16 years old. The police recorded her age as 25.
My nephew lived very close to the police station. He trembles when he tells me of what he heard they did to her.
Women in our village, never interact with men outside of our immediate family. But Kanizan spent nights trapped in a jail cell with strangers. When I went to see her, they didn't let me meet her.
They hung her from a fan with ropes thicker than her tiny wrists, beating her small frame with all their might. They let mice loose in her pants, which they tied from the ankles so that they could not escape. Kanizan had been terrified of mice her whole life.
They electrocuted her repeatedly. I can only hope that she fainted during this ordeal. This is how I comfort myself as a father, forcing myself to believe that my daughter was not conscious during this abuse.
When they had broken her, they forced her to sign a confession. It’s not difficult to see how her mind gave up on her.
I didn’t have the money to go see her for her trial. I did not even know that she had been sentenced to death until much later. I borrowed money from everywhere. Whenever I would have enough, I would try to find my way to her.
But every time I met her, Kanizan was a little bit less. Soon after, her mental state began to deteriorate. Even the jailers were concerned, so much so that, in 2006, she was transferred to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health.
Today I'm told she hears voices, trembles, can’t clothe or feed herself. The hospital wrote a letter in 2015 to the Superintendent of Lahore Central Jail saying she was not fit to be executed.
Mr President, my daughter hasn’t said a word for years. She is terrified, and cries all the time, and needs me and her family to take care of her. She is an unwell woman who does not belong on death row.
I'm a poor man. I can’t do anything in return. But I humbly beg you to find it in your heart to grant mercy to a poor woman who has spent almost her life in jail. Her silence shouldn’t silence what you can do for her.
I know that if this letter reaches you, your good heart will follow.
Sher Muhammad died in 2016. Kanizan continues to languish on death row, despite her diagnosis, strong evidence of innocence, and nearly 29 years behind bars.
The president of Pakistan has not granted mercy in a single clemency appeal since the uplifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, as documented by Justice Project Pakistan in their new report, No mercy: A report on clemency for death row prisoners in Pakistan.
Addendum: Chief Justice Saqib Nisar approved Kanizan’s transfer to a secure mental health facility on April 21, 2018, urging the Punjab Mental Health Institute to ensure she receives medical treatment.