The family of the accused is wealthy and powerful. Photo for representational purpose, via Getty Images
In a video that has shocked many viewers in Pakistan, the father of a medical student has pardoned his daughter’s killer, two months after courts ruled she was murdered for rejecting the killer’s marriage proposal. Pakistan’s controversial forgiveness laws can supersede the country’s murder laws, and grants families of victims the right to pardon killers. The father’s pardon could pull the accused from death row and free him from jail. It could also undo the long quest for justice that has gripped the country over the last three years.
In July, Mujahid Afridi was sentenced to death after he pleaded guilty to shooting Asma Rani three times near her home in Kohat, about 90 miles from the capital Islamabad, in 2018. “It was a cruel offense but our law recognizes this crime as eligible for settlement, which is why they have reached a compromise," Rani’s family’s lawyer Syed Abdul Fayaz told VICE World News. Pardons are mostly negotiated by tribal elders through financial settlements. The murderer’s family pays the victim’s family. In a dramatic video filmed after she was shot and shortly before she died, Rani, gasping for breath on a stretcher, said that Mujahad Afridi had shot her. The video went viral and glued many Pakistanis to news coverage of the murder trial over the next few years. After Rani’s death, her sister Safia also told local media that Afridi had threatened her sister before the murder. “Mujahid Afridi came to our house and issued threats to me, my family and my sister. We told police about these threats but no action was taken because he belongs to a rich family and we are poor,” Safia was quoted as saying. Afridi’s family is wealthy and powerful. His uncle Aftab Alam contested in provincial elections under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party from the district where the murder took place.At first, Afridi fled to Saudi Arabia but was extradited from the United Arab Emirates back to Pakistan three months later. His uncle’s election posters were all over the district during that time.
Activists have speculated that the victim’s family might have pardoned Afridi under duress. Rani’s father denied these claims.
Speaking to the press, Rani’s brother Muhammad Imran said their family had not reached a financial settlement with the convict’s family, and a final decision would be made with the consent of tribal elders. Rani and Afridi were from different tribes. According to news reports, there will be a tribal ceremony to announce the settlement on Sunday. “Pardoning is a culmination of several factors, including but not limited to threats and intimidation faced by families, particularly when the victim's family does not belong to an influential or powerful segment of society and faces financial pressures along with religious and socio-cultural pressures,” rights lawyer Imaan Mazari-Hazir told VICE World News.
In 2011, U.S. CIA contractor Raymond Davis was acquitted of murder in the Pakistani city Lahore after the families of the deceased pardoned him. They received blood money as compensation. In 2013, Shahrukh Jatoi, the son of a wealthy family, was also pardoned by the family of murdered university student Shahzeb Khan, leading to his release. However, following a Supreme Court appeal by activists and lawyers, Jatoi was put back in jail in 2019. His family is appealing the superior court’s decision using the country’s pardon laws. Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.