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Supreme Court of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, July 20: Distressed by the news of lynching of a poor woman in Punjab, the Supreme Court summoned on Friday a complete record of the crime and warned the provincial police chief of strict action if culprits were not arrested.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khwaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain had taken notice of the stoning to death of the woman at Chak 15 in Kacha Koh, about 12km from Khanewal.

Maryam Bibi, 25, mother of five, was cutting grass on the fields of local landlord Raja Mehbub who reportedly forced her to submit to his sexual advances. When she refused, the landlord levelled allegations against the woman and took the matter to a local Panchayat (council of elders) which ordered that the woman be stoned to death. The order was carried out in her home in the wee hours of July 18. Her husband Sarfraz was abducted, but later recovered.

The Supreme Court asked the inspector general of Punjab to appear before it on Monday and warned that he would be suspended if he failed to arrest the culprits.

The court also censured the Punjab government and said if Khadim-e-Aala (chief minister) was not aware of this heinous crime what he was aware of. “Police knew about the incident but did nothing,” the court regretted.

The bench rejected a report submitted by police and said it had been prepared with mala fide intentions because it did not mention the role of the Panchayat.

Advocate General of Punjab Ashtar Ausaf explained before the court that the dispute had erupted when the woman had gone to someone else’s place to cut grass and that the Panchayat had been called to resolve the matter and not to punish the woman.

The chief minister also took strict notice of the incident and gave police 48 hours to arrest the culprits, he said, adding that cases had been registered against nine people for the murder of the woman and three of them were arrested.

“How is it possible that the husband is recovered the moment the Supreme Court takes up a suo motu on the incident,” the court said and asked what the IG had been doing for the past three days. “What authority he (IG) has now to continue with the service. He should have taken strict action on his own.”

Had the state machinery come into action in time there would have been no need of taking suo motu, the court said and asked how society would progress if the law was not applied equally to all.

The chief justice deplored that the law and order situation in the country’s largest province was the worst and observed that no-one was indispensable. “Graveyards are filled with indispensables,” he said and directed the AG to inform the chief minister about the poor investigation by police.

The deputy attorney general also was directed to convey to the quarters concerned in the federal government about the Khanewal incident.

Later in a different case, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that being a poor in Pakistan was a bigger crime than Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (murder).