Nazim Jokhio murder case: With great power, comes the ability to bend the criminal justice system to your will

In Pakistan, even the houbara bustard gets a better shot at justice than the Nazim trying to protect it.
Published April 18, 2022

Imagine that an unjust and violent killing took place. Imagine that it happened because wasting life was a necessary cost for the propagation of virility and power.

Now imagine that this was investigated, then got to a court, which looked through the various procedural infirmities in the law and then declared that the killing was indeed unjust, and put an end to the power imbalance and the entire culture surrounding it.

Reality check

This should have been the simple story of Nazim Jokhio. It is instead half the story of the houbara bustard, the endangered bird, which a couple of foreigners were hunting when Nazim filmed them, while asking why.

You see, the houbara was given justice and its hunting banned by Justice Jawad S Khwaja, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Qazi faez Isa, before this reprieve was taken away by a larger bench, headed by Justice Saqib Nisar in review. The excuse used was that it would effect our foreign policy and relationships with powerful Arabs if we let the decision stand.

No one has yet given Nazim any chance at justice, and the entire provincial government's machinery is hell bent on ensuring that there is nothing given, which can't later be taken away.

The houbara bustard, hunted by falcon-wielding Arabs to enhance their chances in bed, had a better ride on the judicial roller coaster than Nazim’s family has had, thus far. It ended badly for the bustard. It has begun in a way that cannot get worse for Nazim’s loved ones.

Nazim's ordeal

After making the video, Nazim recorded another one, this time stating clearly that he was receiving threats from influential persons who were hosting the foreign hunters.

According to his brother — Afzal Jokhio — he was summoned, along with Nazim, to the farmhouse of a local influential, PPP MPA Jam Owais Khan Jokhio, in order to be reprimanded for his publicity of the hunting party. When they arrived, Nazim was allegedly assaulted and detained, while Afzal was ordered to leave.

Hours later, Afzal was summoned again to the farmhouse, this time to be told that Nazim had died. His body was later found at that farmhouse. An autopsy revealed severe torture marks spread over Nazim’s entire body, showing severe and sustained trauma, including in his genital area.

There was no police raid for MPA Jam. Instead, the police waited for him to present himself to the thana after two days and much uproar on social media on November 5, 2021, whereafter he was presented to a magistrate and sent on police remand for three days.

When the police next turned up to court to ask for an extension in remand on Nov 8, the lawyer representing Nazim's heirs first put forth that the case was not being properly investigated and that relevant sections of terrorism laws were not being incorporated into the case.

On Nov 10, it was reported that Jam Abdul Karim — PPP MNA of the area and brother of MPA Jam Owais — was also booked in the murder investigation. Here, the optics were at their zenith. Two powerful people in custody, and the outrage of a village having been responded to by the state.

The timeline

The chief minister of the province promised justice. As did the leader of opposition.

It would soon be revealed that these peak optics were only to reduce the pressure in the cooker. They were the safety valves engaging. To reduce the anger perhaps, so that the PPP’s version of justice could be done. The one where heavens do fall, but only upon the poor.

The week after MPA Jam was detained contains several procedural stories and one telling one — Nazim’s brother complained once again about a deliberate lack of progress and quality in the investigation of the case. He also complained of pressure and an incessant push for him to withdraw from the case as the complainant. This eventually got him a new investigation team on Nov 17.

Two days later, Nazim’s brother decided he wanted to drop the charges as complainant against MNA Jam and also that he didn’t want to pursue his more extreme allegations against the brothers before the anti-terror courts. It is this date in November where the fight for justice for Nazim stopped being about his brother, and became about his brave widow. She took up what should be the unnecessary role of complainant, in a state which otherwise would do nothing.

Until December 22, when the interim charge sheet was presented, no allegation of terrorising the public was made and it contained no claim against the 23 accused of making an example of Nazim to teach others like him a lesson. On Jan 9, a final probe report was supposedly filed, but no charge sheet was finalised. The next day, the MPA was given better class jail facilities, after he strolled into court where he met a coterie of supporters without suffering the indecency of being handcuffed by the police.

After the papers and journalists took greater interest, the IO finally submitted a final challan in the court on January 26. The court reserved its verdict on the charges framed.

In the beginning of February, the court announced its decision and stated that this was a case that ought be tried under our terror laws, because it could see no reason for the Jams to have done what they allegedly did, other than to make an example out of Nazim for others daring to be like him.

The fault in our 'colonial' legal structure

Our colonial legal structure is above all a testament to what the British cared most about — there’s stamp duty on registering transactions, which then makes them admissible as evidence in court; because you were free to deal with each other, but if you wanted to be under the cover of the colonisers' courts, you had to pay a portion of your contract earnings to the coloniser.

Similarly, there’s an automatic engagement of criminal penalties if you short the tax due to the state, but if you murder someone, the investigation needs a ‘complainant’.

As if the coloniser’s medium of control, the police, shouldn’t really bother with the brown folk until they bring something to its notice. In a similar vein, if this complainant for whatever reason decides to later drop their grievances, the murder becomes mainly your own problem.

The state largely washes its hands off the issue and the accused stands facing little by way of criminal accusation. Sprinkle into this mix the foul abuse of qisas and diyat laws, and you get a country where you should be thankful that rich foreigners come to hunt birds and not humans.

Justice compromised

Instead of fixing the core of the problem with our complaint-based — and hence compromise influenced — criminal justice system, the state carved out exceptions where it mattered most. It made terrorism laws and special courts to try sectarian crimes and later to try the Taliban. Until even the terrorism courts were too flimsy for the Taliban so we created something called military courts which wouldn’t qualify anywhere civilised as a judicial process.

The charges of terrorism, however, bring one critical factor into the mix — as terrorism is a crime against society at large, it is no longer up to the complainant or a victim to forgive and forget.

Terrorism charges here would mean the pressure would come off Nazim’s family and the state would take the accusations to their conclusion. The court decided to do just that and on Feb 8, ordered the IO to submit the challan to the ATC.

Three weeks after the court order, our next update was on March 2, when Nazim’s widow filed a case in the Sindh High Court (SHC), accusing the prosecution of delaying what the court had ordered them to do — file a final challan at the ATC. She pleaded that she was under immense pressure and that this must be done immediately — so that once terror charges are framed, she is no longer a possible vehicle of compromise.

When the Feb 8 order to file before the ATC still wasn’t complied with, Nazim’s widow approached the original trial court to enforce its orders, which on March 15, warned the investigation officer of stern consequences if he didn’t get the ball rolling at the ATC within two days. The investigation officer wasn’t being told to do the job of investigating here, he was just being told to put the charges against the accused at the trial court, with the allegation of terrorism included. So that the state could finally take over and the compromise ideas could stop.

Yet again, nothing happened until March 21, when the court was told by the investigation officer that the charge sheet still hadn’t been filed because the ATC administrative judge refused to accept it unless the Sindh Prosecutor General filed it — as is normal process.

What isn't normal is for the prosecutor general — the province's chief criminal law officer — to take issue with the IO's challan. In this case, however, the prosecutor general was now reviewing the charges put in the sheet by the IO. Not only was this extraordinary for it to be occurring so many months after the crime, it was further staggering as the court itself had ordered for the terrorism charges to be framed.

Then on March 26, MNA Jam got protective bail. He had throughout this process managed to get to and then relax in Dubai, whilst the entire mess was being handled back home. The MNA was granted protective bail to surrender before the relevant trial court by April 3, which should have now been the ATC — but still wasn’t.

VIP treatment

MNA Jam was also by this point a very important man — if he could make it back to the country, he would be one of the few majority-deciding votes in the opposition's push for a declaration of no-confidence against then prime minister Imran Khan.

With the end of March came the next heartbreak — Nazim’s widow had decided to pardon the PPP Jams because she couldn’t fight everyone anymore. She said this in a video where her defiance had clearly wilted. She said she had been left all alone, and she was forgiving these powerful people for the sake of her children.

On March 31, it was reported that MNA Jam got another extension in his protective bail, this time till April 11. One of the reasons he was allowed this extension was that the charge against him, the one which was due two months before by judicial deadline and otherwise delayed by over five months, was as yet not filed before the ATC. Because the prosecutor general was still considering the charges framed by the IO.

The next day, MNA Jam himself appeared in court — after having landed in Karachi on an early morning flight and later being driven to the court premises by the Karachi administrator. He was granted pre-arrest bail despite having been an absconder for several months — one of the reasons why bail is generally denied — again on the grounds that there was still no final charge sheet against him, and hence there wasn’t any trial court for him to present himself before.

His bail was also helped by the affidavit of Nazim’s widow, who after admitting defeat, also put before the court that the two Jams had nothing to do with the murder.

This appearance was followed by a visit to the Sindh government's legal branch, which is located in the same premises. Here, MNA Jam was accorded a warm welcome and even garlanded with an ajrak by an additional advocate general — another legal officer of the provincial government.

It took another few days for the prosecutor general to make a decision. His decision wasn’t to send the charge sheet to the ATC as had been ordered by the original trial court.

He had instead decided that the investigation officer was incompetent and needed to be removed for basically getting ahead of himself and listening to a court of law. His office had apparently been planning this for a while now, with letters being written to the Sindh Police IG as early as March 22 to effect this outcome. By April 5, the police responded by declining this extraordinary request in the public interest.

Public interest?

By April 8, a public interest body had moved the Sindh High Court to become an intervener in the case, so they may facilitate a fair trial, which was by this point becoming increasingly unlikely in the face of the apparent collusion between the accused and those tasked by the state to investigate them.

On April 11, the Sindh High Court asked this public interest body to explain how it enjoyed the legal standing that could enable it to intervene in such a trial which is between the accused and the state.

It then ordered the IO to finalise the charge sheet to be produced before the ATC within a week and also directed the prosecutor general's office to finalise and submit the same within the day that it turns up with them. On this date, the two Jams weren’t present.

A basic requirement for bail to be given by the court and then extended is that the accused who are seeking bail have to surrender themselves to the court when asking for such relief. If a Nazim Jokhio was to miss turning up to a bail hearing, he would likely see his bail cancelled, be declared an absconder and have his arrest ordered. MNA Jam was afforded an extension until April 14 on the grounds that he was busy with the National Assembly session.

Then on April 14, there was finally an update in the case. The investigation officer had finally completed his charge sheet, which was now to be presented to the prosecutor general to be put before the ATC.

The IO had excluded the two Jams from the list of accused — even though the original trial court had on February 8 tasked him with specifically naming them in the charge sheet and including the allegation of terrorism against them.

He also included in the charge sheet that the widow of Nazim had forgiven the two Jams and that no one saw them commit any offence, and the only really involved folk were the guards of the Jams, who allegedly beat Nazim to death for insulting the guests of the Jams on their own volition, after the Jams had allegedly ordered Nazim to turn up to their house to be taught a lesson. Said lesson having begun in front of Nazim’s brother who went with him.

The only hope left here for a modicum of a fair trial is that the judge doesn’t have to agree with the IO's determination. But even then, the judge needs the prosecutor to effectively pursue the case. The latest diary sheet shows that the judge wants everyone to turn up on the next date, Jams included, and he will then determine whether the charge sheet as put before him is to be accepted or not.

It's all Nazim's fault, really

Nazim should have known better. He spoke up for an endangered bird that even the Supreme Court couldn’t really help. The court saw pragmatism in review, deciding that our supposed relationships with Arabs matter more than our laws. Or the life of a helpless bird.

Similarly, it is apparent that the PPP’s relationship with principles is only as deep as is necessary in the circumstances. You have to garland men accused of murder because they are helping you dethrone someone you call selected, because his selection came in the way of your own.

Roti, kapra and makaan is a great rallying cry for the poor, and the PPP prides itself on the love of its jiyalas. But if one of them threatens to cost you an MNA, then you really have to be pragmatic. After all, you can offer lots of roti, kapra and makaan to Nazim’s relatives. It’s all you really promised them anyway.

The rule of law, on the other hand, is a messy business. Much more difficult to afford to everyone.

The optics of the case itself were always reflective of its reality. On the one end, a perma tanned and crease skinned Nazim, member of a class of people to whom the sun is not an optional source of Vitamin D but a necessary part of life. On the other, the powdery fair Jams, sheltered from the severity of daily living.

The scrawny Nazim, the corpulent Jams. David and Goliath with one tragic twist. That Goliath won, after he used all his might to scream ‘Jeay Bhutto’.