A sessions court in Islamabad on Thursday set October 6 for framing of charges in the Noor Mukadam murder case.
Additional Sessions Judge Ata Rabbani presided over the hearing in which copies of the challan, which was submitted to the court by the police in the last hearing on Sep 9, were distributed among the present suspects.
A total of 12 people will be indicted in the case, including Zahir Zakir Jaffer— the key suspect in Noor's murder —, his parents Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, three household staff Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel and six Therapy Works employees including Tahir Zahoor, Amjad, Dilip Kumar, Abdul Haq, Wamiq and Samar Abbas.
The six Therapy Works employees also appeared in court since they were granted bail on August 23.
While it was expected that the suspects will be indicted in today's hearing, it is at the judge's discretion to decide the time frame within which the trial takes place.
In most cases, the judge provides time to the suspects and the complainants to study the investigation report and examine the evidence accompanying it so they may challenge it at the stage of indictment. However, the judge, in some cases, may decide that all arguments will be heard in the trial stage, which begins once the charges have been framed.
The flaws in the challan
The police on Sept 9 submitted the incomplete challan of the murder since the key evidence — mobile phone of the alleged murderer Zahir Jaffer — is yet to be examined and its data has not been retrieved to place on judicial record.
According to Inspector Abdul Sattar, the officer investigating the case, the suspect’s mobile phone was damaged on the day of the incident and data could not be retrieved.
However, he said, an application had been filed before the court, seeking permission to get the mobile phone repaired as it might provide useful evidence to strengthen the prosecution’s case.
Interestingly, the police challan extensively cited Zahir’s phone, which he used frequently to speak to his parents and others.
According to the challan, the mobile phone was working even after Zahir beheaded Noor as it stated that Zakir Jaffer, father of the alleged killer, calmed his son down telling him that his men were on the way to rescue him and dispose of the body.
This also surprised former inspector general of police Saleemullah Khan, who told Dawn that the investigating officer should have filed the application to get the mobile phone repaired in the beginning.
Khan also pointed out that the police did not invoke sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Hudood Ordinance which would make an out of court settlement difficult to achieve.
“Since the offences are compoundable, therefore, the accused persons may seek a compromise with the victim’s family and there is no law to stop this settlement,” he said, adding that the accused may face a trial under section 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for alleged rape.
It may be mentioned that recent statistics of the Islamabad Sessions Court disclosed that in more than 80pc cases, alleged rape offenders were acquitted by courts due to weak prosecution, faulty investigation or out of court settlements.
Senior lawyer Raja Inam Ameen Minhas said police have weakened their own case by implicating the injured therapy worker as an accused in this case.
“He could be a star witness as he witnessed the blood-soaked body of the deceased and came under attack by Zahir Jaffer and sustained serious injuries,” he said, adding that under the Law of Evidence, the testimony of an injured witness is of prime importance, hence, the injured accused should be made an approver.
He said the police challan also cited 18 witnesses and almost all of them were government officials, adding that the statement of government officials other than in cases related to narcotics substances were not considered independent and there was a possibility of them backtracking from the initial statement.
He pointed out that police should have used statements of the accused recorded by the magistrate instead of the investigating officer.
Verdict on parents' bail plea reserved
Meanwhile, Justice Amir Farooq of the Islamabad High Court reserved his verdict on the bail application of Zahir's parents.
Advocate Shah Khawar, the counsel for Noor's family, opposed the plea. He said there were 18 witnesses, onlytwo of whom were private witnesses and no unnecessary witnesses had been included.
"We will complete the trial very quickly [so] bail should not be given," he said, adding that according to the evidence, the "parents were in contact with the suspect [and] they are related to the crime".
Khawar said the evidence would be presented in the trail and reiterated that bail should not be granted since it was a "brutal murder".
A police official, present in the hearing, told the court that the police had yet to receive the forensic report for the mobile phones from the Federal Investigation Agency and that the screen of Zahir's mobile phone was broken while the password for Noor's phone was still not found.
On this, Justice Farooq remarked that "nowadays there are many experts present who can do anything. Unfortunately it must be said that if it is not possible for you, then get [the help of] any hacker from the market."
Questions were also raised by the court about the link between the Therapy Works employees and the petitioners (Zahir's parents).
The public prosecutor said Zahir's mother, Asmat Adamjee, had worked as a consultant for Therapy Works while Zakir had called its CEO, Tahir Zahoor, twice after 7pm. He also said that the guard, Iftikhar, had called Asmat at 6:40pm.
The court inquired when the Therapy Works employees and the police had reached the scene of the incident, to which the police official said that according to the CCTV footage, the employees had arrived at 8:06pm while the police had arrived at 10pm.
"This means that the police arrived there two hours later," Justice Farooq remarked.
Meanwhile, the counsel for Zahir's parents, Khawaja Haris maintained during the hearing that an incomplete interim challan had been submitted to the court.
"No evidence is present that has been proved at this stage," he said, adding that the right to bail could not be denied at this stage.
Justice Farooq remarked that the case would decide the "future of criminal cases in our country". He said that everyone would have to see how to link the evidence together from the incident.
Noor, 27, was found murdered at a residence in Islamabad's upscale Sector F-7/4 on July 20.
A first information report (FIR) was registered later the same day against Zahir, who was arrested from the site of the murder, under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code on the complaint of the victim's father, Shaukat Ali Mukadam.
Zahir's parents and household staff were also arrested on July 24 over allegations of "hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime". They were made a part of the investigation based on Shaukat's statement, according to a police spokesperson.
In his complaint, Shaukat had stated that he had gone to Rawalpindi on July 19 to buy a goat for Eidul Azha, while his wife had gone out to pick up clothes from her tailor. When he had returned home in the evening, the couple found their daughter Noor absent from their house in Islamabad.
They had found her cellphone number switched off, and started a search for her. Sometime later, Noor had called her parents to inform them that she was travelling to Lahore with some friends and would return in a day or two, according to the FIR.
The complainant said he had later received a call from the suspect, whose family were the ex-diplomat's acquaintances. The suspect had informed Shaukat that Noor was not with him, the FIR said.
At around 10pm on July 20, the victim's father had received a call from Kohsar police station, informing him that Noor had been murdered.
Police had subsequently taken the complainant to Zahir's house in Sector F-7/4 where he discovered that his "daughter has been brutally murdered with a sharp-edged weapon and beheaded", according to the FIR.
Shaukat, who identified his daughter's body, has sought the maximum punishment under the law against Zahir for allegedly murdering his daughter.
Police later said that Zahir had confessed to killing Noor while his DNA test and fingerprints also showed his involvement in the murder.