Khadija Siddiqui, who survived a brutal knife attack at the hands of her fellow student in Lahore two years ago, has expressed shock and disappointment over a Lahore High Court verdict in which her accused attacker was acquitted.
The high court on Monday acquitted the son of a senior lawyer convicted for attempting to kill his fellow student by stabbing her several times.
Through a short order, Justice Sardar Ahmed Naeem of the LHC acquitted Shah Hussain, who was earlier convicted for attempted murder, of all charges after accepting his appeal against the five-year sentence handed to him by a sessions court.
Appearing on DawnNewsTV programme Zara Hat Kay on Monday night, Khadija said she was shocked to hear the high court's ruling and that it was "beyond [her] imagination" that someone could get off scot-free after stabbing her 23 times.
According to Khadija, her lawyer Barrister Salman Safdar had presented rebuttal for each of the defence argument and the case did not seem to be heading towards an acquittal at all.
In response to a question, Khadija said that the accused had used various means in the pre-trial stage to force the victim against pursuing the case, including threats and blackmailing. In one instance, she said her father was handed a CD with photos in it and was told that the family would be blackmailed if they did not withdraw the case.
"My character assassination was their only defence," she alleged.
In another shocking revelation, Khadija claimed that a sessions judge — whom she did not name — during the case proceedings asked her in his chamber whether she would be open to reconciliation with the accused but that she refused the offer. In another instance, she said she was asked by the judge to prove "the motive of the accused", and it was suggested that she must have insulted the accused that provoked him to attack her and stab her 23 times.
Khadija also confirmed a claim made by a member of her legal team on social media that Punjab Governor Malik Rafiq Rajwana, who is said to have ties with the accused's father, had asked her to agree to a compromise. Khadija said Rajwana had approached her with the plea that she should forgive Hussain and let the case go since he had already been convicted.
Khadija, who told Dawn.com on Monday she would appeal the LHC decision in the Supreme Court, regretted that the conviction of the accused that her legal team had secured after much struggle had come to nought with the high court's judgement.
"It is a tragedy that one has to go through the mess of appeals even after getting justice [...] we are back to square one today."
'Threat to society at large'
Khadija was one of the hundreds of people whose security was withdrawn when Chief Justice Saqib Nisar ordered in April this year that the security protocol of all unauthorised officials and civilians be taken away.
She revealed that although she had never asked for security, she was sent a security guard by Tehmina Durrani who stayed with her for a year.
And although she no longer has security, Khadija feels she doesn't necessarily need it anyway.
"He [the accused] is not a threat to me; he is a threat to society at large," she said referring to Hussain.
"If he goes scot-free in this case, will he think his father will not save him when he commits the next crime? [Of course] his father will save him in the future as well."
Khadija stressed that there was a need for more women to join the legal fraternity so that the gap with regards to female presence in courtrooms is reduced and women know how to stand up for themselves even if they get asked "scandalous questions".
Khadija said her parents had stood behind her throughout the proceedings of the case and "never let me fall".
"We have taken a stand against a huge mafia, but I have to keep standing," she said with resilience.
Khadija was attacked by her class fellow Shah Hussain, on May 3, 2016, near Shimla Hill where she, along with her driver, had gone to pick her younger sister from school.
Both sisters were about to get into their car when the helmet-wearing suspect attacked Khadija with a knife and stabbed her 23 times, leaving her critically injured.
A judicial magistrate had on July 29, 2017, sentenced Hussain to seven-year imprisonment under Section 324 (attempted murder) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), two years under Section 337A(i) (causing injuries), five years under Section 337A(ii), one year under Section 337F(i), three years under Section 337F(ii) and five years under Section 337F(iv).
However, a district and sessions court in March this year had commuted the rigorous imprisonment awarded by the trial court to Hussain by two years and set aside other minor penalties.
The trial court in its decision had noted that despite detailed cross-examination of witnesses, nothing came out in favour of the convict.
It further observed that the convict had stabbed the victim mercilessly as severe injuries on her vital body parts clearly established that the convict stabbed her to kill her.
It ruled that ocular account was fully corroborated by the medical evidence and motive had been proved and even confessed to by the convict.