Karachi University Professor's Conviction For Harassing Female Colleague Is Not FIA's Achievement

Karachi University Professor's Conviction For Harassing Female Colleague Is Not FIA's Achievement
Those reporting on the case of a KU professor who was convicted under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, by a sessions court in Karachi, presenting it as an FIA achievement and how they apprehend/punish culprits, need to stop relying on Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)'s press releases and look at the case record to construct their reports and news bulletins.

It is not because of the FIA or the prosecutor that this case progressed to this stage. Rather, it progressed in spite of them and their efforts to thwart and delay. it was due to the sheer grit and determination of the complainant, assisted by private counsels over the last 4 years and 8 months, that the case has now concluded. 

We need to look at the facts of the case. FIA acted after teacher's FOURTH complaint to them. She filed an anonymous complaint with the FIA, they traced the culprit and arrested him. Before the case even went to trial, the FIA "lost" the police/evidence file, and retained no copy.

Throughout, the complainant had to rely on pro bono, legal help by private counsels even though this is a cognizable case and the state is a party. This is because the FIA failed to guide and assist her. To the extent that initially they did not even bother to tell her about hearings in the case knowing full well she had sought help from private counsel. They did not give her or her counsels a copy of the file though both were on the same side and ultimately "lost" it.

There are several other gruelling details about the harrowing experience, but the trial only commenced and got to this stage because the complainant filed a petition before the Sindh High Court against the FIA for negligence and loss of evidence. This was filed by lawyer Sarah Malkani. It was the result of this petition (CP 2332/2019) that the file was recovered, presented to the lower court. Sarah Malkani appeared for the complainant throughout. The complainant also filed multiple applications before the SHC regarding delays in trials even after the file was retrieved.

Despite HC directions, the FIA kept delaying. Sometimes the IO wouldn't show up, sometimes the prosecutor remained absent. There were adjournments due to the "missing file." Prosecution witnesses were not presented. Then final arguments held up. Look up CP 2332/2019 before the SHC and 947/2017 before sessions court East, Karachi.

This went on for nearly five years. Those reporting on the 8 year punishment should know that while he has indeed been charged under three sections of the law, he he has already served the punishment (to run concurrently) while under trial -- thanks to delays by the FIA. It was on this ground he obtained bail.

After multiple bail rejections, in 2019 he was granted bail because he had completed the statutory period under the law and yet the trial had not concluded. Bail became a right. This was a result of FIA delays. Right till the very end this practice continued. The fact is that he will serve no more jail time. 

Being fixated on convictions and jail terms is counter productive if the processes and conduct complainants are subjected to is not discussed or reviewed, and they are not shielded from FIA misconduct which continues over years without any accountability. So, no. Women are not facilitated, rather harassed. They are pressured in offices and in court, despite cases being cognizable and non-compoundable, to compromise. There are attempts to exhaust them so they give up. Many do give up. This complainant did not despite FIA's many attempts.

What we need to question is the gain after nearly five years, from hell the complainant was put through. In delaying trial while keeping the accused in jail, also raises questions regarding rights of the accused. Hence bail became a right. This is one case, many like this.

This surface level reporting and celebration of conviction and "high" punishment does nothing to inform the public on the issue and the ordeal. But that's because those reporting care not to inform themselves first. The issue has legal and social dimensions which must be discussed. Arresting people, keeping them in jail, delaying trial not only violates rights of the accused but is also harrowing for complainants of sexual harassment who want a resolution in the shortest time frame possible. This complainant has been stigmatised, blamed and victimised in these past 5 years. 

What remedy does this conviction provide? Yes, we need crimes to be established and perpetrators to be punished. But how that's done and the legal, social, psychological and financial costs must be considered. People still need to earn, live. Their ability to do so is hindered. To those promoting the message that now women should go to the FIA and they will resolve their cases, after this case and so many other cases, being a witness throughout first hand of what happens, I wish no one to go through the hell that this complainant has or others have been put through. Don’t generate false hope. This is not to say there should not be legal remedies. However, PECA and FIA as a remedy do not work. They are responsible for additional harassment and victimisation. And there has to be accountability of it, which cannot happen without looking at facts and discussion.

Can the complainant move on from this, without fear of retaliation? Fearing an appeal may decide otherwise? Freely enter a workplace which was also his (no idea what action university administration has taken since conviction), where his peers are around? This isn't over with conviction. She's already lost several teaching jobs during this time, who is to say whether she'll be able to keep jobs she has. 

Women are told to speak up. When they do, they are told, "what is the point" or termed troublemakers. The struggle on a daily basis is invisible, as are consequences

This article is a reproduced version of a Twitter thread published with the author's permission.