Justice for Perween – 22 Nov 2022

The Sindh High Court has acquitted all five men sentenced for the murder of social activist and one of the founders of the Orangi Pilot Project Perween Rahman who was shot dead in Karachi in 2013. The SHC has said that the 2021 verdict by the anti-terrorism court (ATC) now stands nullified. It has been nine years since Perween Rahman lost her life, nine very long years for her family to wait for justice. Unfortunately, they are yet again back to square one. The final Joint Investigation Team report presented to the Supreme Court in the Perween Rahman case some years back had posited many theories. Among those the JIT said had a motive in the murder were militant organizations, the illegal water and hydrant mafia in the city or organized crime groups involved in land grabbing.

The Perween Rahman case is a reminder that those who are working to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable amongst us face real threats to their lives and that they are largely leading solitary battles. There is little trust in a system that seems to represent the interests of the criminal class more than that of those who would fight them. Rahman’s work was a direct threat to many who see land rights as existing only to be usurped. Rather than regularizing informal settlements and giving ownership rights to those who settle there, officialdom too ends up privileging organized land usurpers who profit from providing housing – often unsafe – to the city’s growing population. That said, the five men who were placed on trial for the murder of Perween Rahman included a principal accused who her sister says had reportedly even confessed to the crime. The Sindh High Court has said that, despite the evidence provided during the ATC trial, doubts arise over the investigation and the findings. For years, there have been concerns over the need for law enforcement and prosecution to ensure that loopholes and problems in investigations are answered and properly covered in the reports they file so that courts are in a better position to reach a just verdict. Such loopholes have in many cases allowed murderers, rapists and other criminals to go free after committing their crimes.

This is a terrible injustice to a person like Perween Rahman as well as her family who have waited far too long only to see her alleged killers be acquitted. One wonders to what extent human rights defenders are meant to risk their lives to raise a voice for, and protect, the vulnerable. Perween Rahman’s family has issued a press release through their lawyer asking the accused to be immediately detained since they pose a threat to the family. They have also asked the government of Sindh to file an appeal against Monday’s judgment, and for the state to introspect on such cases that fail to provide justice in the face of grave violence. We hope these measures are taken immediately so that some semblance of justice can be brought to a woman who lost her life working for the most marginalized of Karachi.

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