Urgent Appeals File: Tahmeena & Abida Bhutto–A trip to visit grandparents ends in an unmarked grave

Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong & Human Rights Education Forum, Pakistan

On 1 May 2004, Tahmeena Bhutto, 17, and her cousin Abida Bhutto, 18, left their village of Jano, in Shikarpur district of Sindh province, to visit their grandparents in nearby Sukkur. However, they failed to inform their family members or obtain permission prior to going. The following day, two groups went in search of the girls: one consisted of Abida’s father, Dad Mohammad, together with Hajji Shafi Mohammad Bhutto, Hajji Nazeer Bhutto and Sanaullah Bhutto; the other consisted of Tahmeena’s brother, Hidayatullah Bhutto, led by the local tribal leader, Abdul Rasheed Bhutto, together with Younis Bhutto. It was the latter group that found the girls together with their grandfather, and brought them back to their district.

However, rather than bringing Tahmeena and Abida home, Abdul Rasheed Bhutto brought the girls to his bungalow at Lakhi gate, Shikarpur, whereupon he called a group of eight other men to discuss the case. Dad Mohammad, Hidayatullah and Fazaluddin Bhutto were also called to be present, and were told that the girls would be kept under the leader’s protection before being handed back to their families the following day.

The next day, May 3, the three men again went to get the girls, and found that all nine of the men where again present. They were told by Abdul Rasheed to go back to their village, and that he himself would bring the girls. Unknown to the girls’ relatives, the gathering of nine men comprised a tribal council, or jirga, which sat in judgment on the girls, despite a decision by the High Court of Sindh on April 23 to outlaw jirgas as contrary to the Constitution.

The men walked back to their village, as it was late at night and there was no public transport. It was around 1am the following morning that they reached the graveyard beside the village, when two cars came alongside, carrying the members of the jirga and the girls. The girls were ordered out of the cars. Then, according to Fazaluddin,

They ordered us to kill the girls because, according to them, they are “Karis” (having bad character). We prayed to them not do so because the girls don’t have bad character. Thereupon, Abdul Rasheed Bhutto, Younis Bhutto and Sulaiman Bhutto took out TT pistols, and Jamaluddin Bhutto took out a double-barrelled gun from a car. We again solicited them not to do that. Thereupon the armed perpetrators pointed their guns to the girls and fired upon them with intentions of killing them. The bullets hit the girls; they fell down on the ground before us and died. Then the perpetrators forced us not to report the incident to the police, “Otherwise the same thing will happen to you.” Then the perpetrators put the dead bodies in the cars and went towards Sindh canal in order to hide them.

Fazaluddin, Hidayatullah and Dad Mohammad went home and conferred with their families about whether they should report the killing to the police or not. After deciding to do so, they went to the Officer in Charge of the police station in New Foujidari to make their complaint. It was lodged as Case No. 65/2004, under sections 302, 201, 147, 148 and 149/506/2 of the Pakistan Penal Code at 6:20pm the following day. These sections include charges for murder, concealing evidence, conspiracy and harassment; all are bailable offences.

The families subsequently received constant threats, and were ostracised in the village for approaching the police and defying customary law. Abdul Rasheed Bhutto contacted the families and told them to accept a fine (for their wrongdoing) and withdraw the case. He refused to hand over the dead bodies of the girls because, according to him, they had decayed. After allegedly being intimidated by Abdul Rasheed Bhutto, Fazaluddin next approached the Human Rights Education Forum (HREF) to help in the case. Iqbal Detho, the coordinator of the HREF, recalls what happened:

Neither the police nor the press was aware of the whole happening. The girls’ families were faced with a situation of ‘to be or not to be’. After the incident, Mr Fazaluddin came to my office and related the whole thing. It was really shocking and motivating to me as a human and a human rights activist. I immediately called Mr. Zahid Noon, a correspondent at a local newspaper, Kawish, in order to raise the issue in the media. Zahid collected all the facts from the complainant and made a story that appeared in the newspaper the next day. It shocked the whole district government and the average person on the street as well. The police, who had managed to acquire a heavy favour from the main culprit in order to hush up the case, yielded to pressure and recorded a FIR [First Information Report]. The FIR was lodged due to public pressure, but sincere progress on the part of the police was still wanting.

On May 9, I went with Mr. Fazaluddin to the District Police Officer (Operations), Mr. Khameeso Khan Memon, to complain about the slow progress in the case and deficiencies of the police in discharging their duties. By this time, not even a single culprit had been arrested; they were walking freely in the city. But the response of the District Police Officer [DPO] was very cold. He replied to me with a harsh tone that the police were discharging their duties appropriately. Therefore, he said, I need not interfere in the process of the inquiry. He also observed that the killings were an act of honour. Perhaps influential persons in the area had already reached him, or he had received a heavy bribe.

By this time the victims’ families were like drowning persons who had seen a piece of floating wreckage–the DPO–and reaching for it had found that it too had sunk. Having seen the behaviour of the DPO, they became desperate. In the meantime, there was only one police officer that really cooperated in efforts to bring the perpetrators to account: DPO (Investigation) Mr. Fida Hussain Mastoi.

At this time, the AHRC released the first urgent appeal on the case, and contacted senior government officials and the concerned police officers by telephone and fax. The urgent appeal issued by the AHRC was picked up on by local and national media. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also investigated the incident. Feeling some pressure both domestically and internationally, DPO Mastoi established a Special Investigation Cell consisting of five police officers and directed it to recover the bodies of the victims and arrest the perpetrators. The police found the bodies buried in a dry pond on the property of Abdul Rasheed Bhutto.

On May 14, the bodies were exhumed in the presence of the fourth civil judge, Shikarpur, the DPO, and two Woman Medical Doctors, who conducted an autopsy in the same day and concluded that the “injuries were caused by discharge from firearm” some 10 to 14 days earlier. The bodies were handed over to the victims’ relatives after the autopsy. This in itself was a remarkable achievement by normal standards in Pakistan, where it is enormously difficult to recover the bodies of victims in honour killings, let alone prosecute the perpetrators. The same day, DPO Mastoi obtained an order to prevent Abdul Rasheed Bhutto from leaving the country.

The following day, DPO Mastoi reconstituted the Special Investigation Cell under the direct supervision of the District Superintendent of Police (Investigation), and ordered daily progress reports. The investigating officer also applied for further charges, including one under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

On May 17, the police obtained an eight-day physical remand over three of the accused. However, they brought the men to the anti-terrorism court, Sukkur, so the judge refused to remand the three men, as the case did not fall under the anti-terrorism law. He directed the police to obtain a remand order from the judicial magistrate. Later, the police brought the accused to the judicial magistrate at Shikarpur and obtained a remand order.

On May 18, a demonstration was held against the murder of Tahmeena and Abida, calling for the immediate arrest of the other six perpetrators, including Abdul Rasheed, and that steps be taken against the persons who organised the jirga.

On May 26, the police again approached the anti-terrorism court on the case by attaching more supporting documents to illustrate that the girls’ murders had spread fear and insecurity among the family and the community. Iqbal Detho describes:

After recovering the bodies, DPO Mastoi imposed two more sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act against the accused, and sought permission to proceed with the case in the Anti-Terrorism Court [ATC]. The court objected on the ground that the case didn’t fall within the mandate of the court. Those require that it hear only cases over which there stands the possibility of public uncertainty and mob actions. However, the DPO tried again with special reference to the Urgent Appeal and letters sent by the AHRC, the HREF and other human rights organisations. In that attempt he succeeded to register the case with the ATC.

The court ordered that hearings begin on June 5.

Up to this point, under public pressure the case had proceeded well. However, the danger lay in the feudal links between the main accused, Abdul Rasheed, and influential persons in Pakistan, notably Ghous Bukhsh Khan Mahar, and Dr Muhammad Ibrahim Jatoi, two members of the national assembly from Shikarpur. Ghous Bukhsh Khan, previously the minister for railways, currently minister for narcotics control, had supported Abdul Rasheed from the start of the case.

On August 12, DPO Mastoi, the police officer instrumental in achieving progress, was given a notice of transfer to a new posting; his transfer is believed caused by the influence of the two members of the national assembly.

Ghous Bukhsh Khan Mahar is also reported to have called a second jirga, in violation of state law, to resolve the case and hamstring the proceedings in the courts. Under intense pressure, the victims’ families have been forced to submit to the will of this hearing, which is reported to have decided that the families would receive about 600,000 rupees per victim. Since this event, the families of the victims have avoided contact with human rights groups. Iqbal Detho comments:

It is wretchedness for the victims’ families that one jirga snatched the lives of the girls, and another was held to redress the wrong that had been done to them. What is the state of the judiciary in Pakistan that these two jirgas could be held in such a short time after the Sindh High Court declared such gatherings illegal? That these two jirgas have been staged even after that judgment violates not only the court’s decree, but is also a blow for human rights in Pakistan.

The court cases against the accused have now ground to a halt. Although the names of all nine of those on the original complaint have been recorded by the courts as respondents, six have not been arrested, including Abdul Rasheed Bhutto. Although the case is pending before the anti-terrorist court of Sukkur, the last hearing was on 20 July 2004, and evidence has not yet been presented to the court. The accused are understood to have lodged a petition in the High Court of Sindh to have the case removed from the anti-terrorism court and kept in the ordinary court system. The reason for this application is that in the ordinary court system it is possible for compensation payments to be made in lieu of criminal penalties for killings organised under the tribal system in accordance with the Ordinance of Qisas and Dayat. This is not possible in the anti-terrorism court.

At the end of October, Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC, wrote to the president of Pakistan expressing concern over the apparent lack of progress and political interference in the case. In his letter, Basil Fernando also raised the matter of efforts by the state authorities in Sindh to reverse the decision of the high court prohibiting the use of jirgas to validate ‘honour killings’ through the proposed Sindh Amicable Settlement of Dispute Ordinance 2004. This ordinance will have the effect of again legalising the jirga system retrospective to the date of the high court order in April, which the letter referred to as “a deeply regressive step that serves only to further undermine the rule of law in Pakistan”. In the event that this ordinance is passed, the likelihood that the killers of Abida and Tahmeena Bhutto will be brought to justice will be significantly reduced.

Appendix: Letter from the Asian Human Rights Commission to the President of Pakistan

3 November 2004

General Pervez Musharraf
Office of the President
Pakistan Secretariat

Fax: +92 51 922 4768/ 920 1893 or 1835
Pages: 2

Dear General Musharraf


We write to you further to our most recent letter of August 18, with reference to the murder of two girls, Abida and Tahmeena Bhutto, in Sindh Province last May under the orders of a Jirga headed by Mr Abdul Rasheed Bhutto (PS New Foujidari Case No. 65/2004). The case has been lodged in the Sessions Court Shikarpur under PPC sections 302, 201, 147, 148, 149/506/2 and in the Anti-Terrorist Court Sukkur under ATA section 6/7.

Although the case is pending before these two courts, the last hearing known to us, before the Anti-Terrorist Court, was on July 20, at which time the court was still establishing procedure for the case and had not yet begun hearing evidence. Meanwhile, nine of the six respondents, including the first accused, are reported to be still at large, while a petition has been lodged in the High Court to transfer the case out of the Anti-Terrorism Court in order that the accused may escape criminal responsibility by paying compensation.

In our last letter to you, we expressed deep concern over negative developments in the case seriously inhibiting the possibility of the victims obtaining justice. To recap, our main concerns pertain to alleged political interference in the case by influential persons acting to protect the first accused. According to the information we have received, two members of the National Assembly, namely Dr Muhammad Ibrahim Jatoi, and your Minister for Narcotics Control, Mr Ghous Bukhsh Khan Mahar, were behind the transfer of the police officer actively pursuing the case, one DPO (Investigation) Fida Hussain Mastoi, on August 12. It can only be concluded from this unfortunate turn of events that police officers in Pakistan seen to be doing their jobs properly when the accused are persons with political connections are ‘rewarded’ by being replaced with less interested and perhaps less competent personnel.

More seriously, Mr Ghous Bukhsh Khan Mahar is alleged to have headed a second Jirga to settle the case outside of the courts by way of a compensation payment to the families of the victims, also complainants in the case, at 600,000 rupees per victim. We again note to you that although the High Court of Sindh outlawed Jirgas in April 2004, it appears that the practice continues unabated even among the highest circles of your own government. This is particularly ironic in light of the recent National Assembly decision to increase penalties for honour killings, although we note with concern that the new provisions do not prohibit the practice of compensation payments for killings under the Ordinance of Qisas and Dayat. We also condemn as a matter of principle the death sentence for any crime.

Furthermore, we are deeply concerned by steps undertaken by the state government of Sindh to undermine the judicial decision mentioned above by introducing an ordinance entitled the Sindh Amicable Settlement of Dispute Ordinance 2004. This ordinance will have the effect of legalising the Jirga system retrospectively from the date of the court’s decision. This is a deeply regressive step that serves only to further undermine the rule of law in Pakistan.

Accordingly, we again urge you to take particular interest in this case in order to ensure that all of the accused men are arrested, brought to trial, and judged and sentence in accordance with the law. In particular, we request that you see the case expedited in order that the alleged perpetrators not enjoy the luxury of further time to intimidate the complainants and witnesses and distort the evidence in order to escape the consequences of their crime. We also urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that the families of the accused are properly protected from intimidation and threats. Furthermore, we recommend that you undertake to investigate allegations that Dr Muhammad Ibrahim Jatoi, and Mr Ghous Bukhsh Khan Mahar were responsible for influencing the outcome of the case by way of having the chief investigating officer transferred and holding a second Jirga to settle the matter out of court. Finally, we urge you to take steps to override any attempts by the state authorities in Sindh to reverse the decision of the High Court, thereby prohibiting the use of Jirgas to validate the practice of ‘honour killings’ through its proposed ordinance for the payment of compensation to victims’ families.

Please be informed that we are taking a strong interest in this case, the outcome of which can be sure to have an effect on the international reputation of Pakistan, for better or worse depending upon the decisions that you and other persons in positions of responsibility choose to take.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director

1. Hon. Mr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad Khan, Governor of Sindh Province
2. Hon. Mr. Arbab Ghulam Raheem, Chief Minister Sindh Province
3. Mr. Sayed Kamal Shah, Provincial Police Officer, Sindh Police
4. Mr. Saleem Lone, Regional Police Officer, Sukkur Region
5. Mr. Syed Sultan Shah, Joint Secretary for Law, Justice and Human Rights
6. Ms. Yakin Erturk, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women
7. Mr. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions


Footnote: This article is derived from a number of appeals by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and additional documentary material provided by the Human Rights Education Forum. Visit the AHRC website to see further: PAKISTAN: Girls killed for visiting grandparents without permission in another ‘honour killing’ (FA-12-2004); PAKISTAN: Three of the nine perpetrators were arrested but the police officer was pressured politically (UP-23-2004); PAKISTAN: Jirgas and feudal lords continue to undermine the rule of law in Pakistan (UP-46-2004). The case was also described in brief in article 2, vol. 3, no. 3, June 2004, pp. 37-8.

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