Islamabad High Court upholds death sentence in Noor Mukadam murder case

Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, the main convict in the murder of Noor Mukadam arrives in a court before the case verdict in Islamabad on February 24, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 13 March 2023
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Islamabad High Court upholds death sentence in Noor Mukadam murder case

  • Last year a lower court awarded Zahir Jaffer the death sentence for grisly murder of diplomat's daughter
  • Jaffer and his two accomplices can appeal IHC's verdict in the Supreme Court within seven days

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani high court on Monday upheld the death sentence of convict Zahir Jaffer, who was found guilty by a lower court of murdering Noor Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat in Islamabad. 

In February 2022, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Pakistani-American Jaffer, a childhood friend of Mukadam, for beheading her in July 2021 in a murder that sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent crime against women in Pakistan.

Zahir Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, a cook at the family's home, and six employees of Therapy Works, a counseling center from where Jaffer had received certification as a therapist and where he was being treated at the time of the murder, were acquitted by the court. The counseling centre employees were present at the scene of the crime, Jaffer's house, when police arrived, having been called there by his parents reportedly to restrain him.

The trial court also gave Jaffer 25 years imprisonment with a fine of Rs200,000 for rape, ten years in jail with a Rs100,000 fine for abduction, and a one-year jail term for keeping Mukadam in illegal confinement. Two members of his household staff, Iftikhar and Jan Mohammad, got ten years in jail each. In March 2022, Jaffer approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to file an appeal against the sentence.

On Monday, the IHC upheld Jaffer's death sentence by the lower court and also enhanced his earlier life imprisonment sentence for raping the victim, to the death sentence. Meanwhile, the court also upheld the 10-year sentences of his two accomplices in the case. 

"Alhamdulillah, I am satisfied because the main convict, Zahir Jaffer, has been awarded death sentence on two counts, on murder and rape," Shaukat Mukadam, the deceased's father, told Arab News. "I think this is a landmark judgment."

He said the judgment would give a clear message to people that "no one is above the law." However, he said the general opinion in Pakistan was that Jaffer's parents should also have been handed "some punishment."

"I will discuss with my lawyers and whatever is the future course of action to take, we will take that," Mukadam said in response to Arab News' question on whether he intended to appeal the court's earlier decision to discharge the convict's parents. 

Shah Khawar, the lawyer representing the Mukadam family, told Arab News Jaffer has the right to appeal against the verdict at the Supreme Court of Pakistan within seven days. 

He confirmed Jaffer's previous life sentence for raping Mukadam had been enhanced to the death sentence by the IHC. "Now, he has been convicted and confirmed to be hanged in two cases, one in the rape and one in the murder," Khawar said. 

Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year, with thousands more suffering brutal violence across the country. But few cases receive sustained media attention, and only a small fraction of perpetrators are ever punished.

The shocking murder, involving members of the privileged elite of Pakistani society, triggered an explosive reaction from women’s rights activists reckoning with pervasive violence. It also increased pressure for a swift conclusion of the trial, in a country known to have a sluggish justice system, where cases typically drag on for years.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details come in


Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

Updated 28 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

  • Khan’s PTI party claims it won from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats
  • The party has asked its followers and supporters to take to the streets in large number to protect its mandate

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party issued a protest call to its supporters on Tuesday, urging them to take to the streets and demonstrate against the alleged election manipulation following the February 8 polls.

Pakistan’s national polls were marred by a countrywide outage of cellphone networks and delays in the announcement of results by election authorities, leading to widespread suspicions of fraud during the vote counting process.

Several political parties, including the PTI, have been protesting against election irregularities, claiming the results were altered in favor of their opponents.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denies these allegations.

“Imran Khan has given a message to all of Pakistan today from jail that there will be a protest against the theft of our mandate between 11 and 12am on Saturday,” PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat said during a news conference.

“I have been assigned the responsibility of the protest in Islamabad,” he added. “We will start the demonstration from F9 Park and it will conclude at the Press Club. We will remain completely peaceful.”

Marwat maintained people had come out to vote for his party at a time when its candidates were not even allowed to run their campaign.

He said it was now everyone’s responsibility to protect that mandate by taking to the streets in large numbers.

The PTI leader claimed the politicians who were taking over power in Punjab and at the National Assembly had not even been elected on their seats.

Independent candidates supported by Khan’s party won over 90 seats and emerged as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly.

It says it can prove its victory from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats during the vote counting process.


On anniversary of shooting down Indian warplane, Pakistan says will ‘forcefully respond to aggression’

Updated 28 February 2024
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On anniversary of shooting down Indian warplane, Pakistan says will ‘forcefully respond to aggression’

  • Pakistan downed Indian MiG-21 aircraft and captured its pilot after New Delhi ordered airstrikes in Balakot in 2019
  • Caretaker PM Kakar says his country is capable of protecting its territorial integrity against external aggression

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar praised the armed forces of Pakistan on the fifth anniversary of the downing of an Indian fighter jet in Kashmir on Tuesday, saying the incident demonstrated that his country was capable of protecting its territorial integrity in the face of any external aggression.

“Operation Swift Retort” was a military operation conducted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on February 27, 2019, in response to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) airstrike in Balakot a day earlier.

The Indian attack was said to be in response to an attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 14 which killed 40 of its paramilitary personnel.

The Indian authorities blamed the attack on its soldiers on a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, leading to heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and the attack in Balakot.

“Today marks the completion of five years of ‘Operation Swift Retort,’” the PM office circulated Kakar’s message. “We pay tribute to the professional skill and determination of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, who on this day debunked India’s claims, falsely and wrongly, by practically demonstrating their operational superiority.”

“There should be no doubt that Pakistan is a peace-loving country, committed to protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added. “We will robustly respond to any aggression.”

During the operation, the PAF conducted airstrikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir region, targeting non-military sites to demonstrate its capability and resolve while avoiding human loss and escalation to a full-scale war.

The operation included an aerial engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets, resulting in the downing of an Indian MiG-21 aircraft and the capture of its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistani forces.

The pilot was later released as a gesture of peace by the administration in Islamabad.


Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 

Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 

  • Two Holy Mosques are places of worship and not arenas for political expression, Pakistan Ulema Council says 
  • Warns that raising slogans, flags or engaging in other irrelevant activities not allowed at Two Holy Mosques

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi has urged intending Hajj pilgrims to follow “codal formalities of Saudi Arabia in letter and spirit” during their pilgrimage and refrain from engaging in political activities while in the Kingdom, Radio Pakistan reported on Wednesday.

Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, is expected to run from June 14-19 this year.

“Ashrafi emphasized the Two Holy Mosques are the places of worship and not arenas for political expression or displays of nationalism,” Radio Pakistan reported. 

“He warned that raising slogans, flags or engaging in any other irrelevant activity is not allowed at the Two Holy Mosques and guarding their sanctity is obligatory upon Muslims.”

In April 2022, some Pakistani pilgrims who hounded and chanted slogans at then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah were arrested by Saudi authorities, the media director of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad had confirmed at the time, saying protesters had “disrespected” the sanctity of the holy mosque.

Videos circulating on social media at the time showed Pakistani pilgrims at the mosque chanting slogans of “chor” (thieves) as the prime minister and his delegation passed by. In another video, pilgrims could be seen heckling and chanting abusive slogans at federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti as the pair were escorted by Saudi guards. A pilgrim could also be seen pulling Bugti’s hair from behind.

Since the incident, Pakistani leaders and Hajj officials have issued several warnings reminding the country’s nationals to follow rules and avoid political sloganeering and other activities while in Saudi Arabia.


Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today

Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today

  • Ex-PM Khan’s PTI party is in a comfortable position to form KP government for third consecutive terms after sweeping the polls
  • Pakistan’s other two provinces of Punjab and Sindh have already held their sessions and elected their speakers and chief ministers

PESHAWAR/QUETTA: The provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan are scheduled to hold their inaugural sessions today, Wednesday, after voters in the two federating units elected their representatives in the national polls held earlier this month.

Independent candidates backed by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept the provincial elections in KP by securing more than 90 seats and are in a strong position to form a government for a third consecutive term.

The election in the province was held on 111 general seats after the contest was postponed in two constituencies due to the death of two candidates in them.

Khan has already nominated Ali Amin Gandapur to be his party’s candidate to be the province’s new chief minister.

“Governor Hajji Ghulam Ali has summoned the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s session on February 28,” said a notification from his office issued over the weekend. “The session has been called at 11 in the morning.”

The KP session will be followed by protests by Awami National Party (ANP) that only managed to secure one seat in the house and has leveled rigging allegations.

Authorities in the southwestern Balochistan province have also called the first session of the legislative assembly today for the oath-taking of its newly elected members.

“The house will meet at three in the afternoon,” said Radio Pakistan.

Pakistan’s other two provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have already held their sessions and elected their speakers, deputy speakers and chief ministers.


Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

  • The vessel is said to have started its journey from Pakistan and had advanced conventional weaponry for Houthi rebels
  • The US Central Command says it is the first seizure of Iranian-supplied weapons to the groups since their strikes began

RICHMOND: A Pakistani national who US officials say was the captain of a ship carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthi rebels in Yemen was ordered Tuesday to remain behind bars as he awaits trial on charges of attempting to smuggle a warhead and other weapons, and lying to US Coast Guard officers as they boarded the boat.

Two Navy SEALs drowned while boarding the unflagged vessel in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 11 in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said the boat’s captain, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it.”

The ship was described as a dhow.

“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”

US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.

As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.

Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful and they were later declared dead by the Navy.

During a detention hearing in US District Court in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Lauren Lee testified that Pahlawan initially said he was the boat’s engineer and that the captain had gotten off the ship. He also said he was not aware of any cargo on the ship, Lee said. She said he later contradicted himself, saying, “I am in command of the boat.”

Assistant US Attorney Troy Edwards Jr. argued that Pahlawan should remain in custody pending trial because he is a danger to the community and poses a serious risk of flight. Edwards said Pahlawan has no ties to the US and that the most serious charge against him — intentionally transporting a warhead knowing it would be used by Houthi rebel forces — constitutes a federal crime of terrorism and carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The charge of making material false statements carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Pahlawan’s attorney, Assistant Supervisory Federal Public Defender Amy Austin, suggested that the interpreter used by US officials when they were questioning crew members on the boat may not have spoken Punjabi, Pahlawan’s language. Lee said she did not know which language the interpreter spoke, but she said Pahlawan answered questions posed to him by the interpreter during sometimes hours-long interviews.

During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.

The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.

The rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

Three other crew members were charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers. They were also ordered detained following detention hearings Tuesday.

Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.

Their attorneys have declined to comment.

Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”

The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.