NPR coverage of the Shazia Masih murder case

Today NPR had an extremely disappoing report on the Shazia Masih murder case.

The report mentioned the multiple contradictory autopsy reports for Shazia Masih:

According to the hospital death certificate, the girl died on Jan. 22, 2010, of “cardiopulmonary arrest.” Another official report describes “multiple scars” on her back and at least 18 injuries including abrasions on her neck, swelling on her face and a bruise on her forehead, caused, the report says, by “blunt means.” Still a third document — an official forensic medicine and toxicology report — says Shazia died of septicemia, or blood poisoning. One judge reviewing the case noted that “patients with septicemia often develop hemorrhages [that] if untreated … begin to look like fresh bruises.”

But the contradictory details of how she died seem almost irrelevant to her family.

I’m just shocked at this reporting. No, the contradictory details are not “irrelevant” to her family, her family (and the Christian community) have protested at the deliberate falsification of the post mortem evidence. Here are just a few reports on the irregularities in the creation of the post mortem report.

1. Here’s a report in The News from January 25 2010 on the first autopsy conducted by a medical board comprising three doctors, headed by Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Zahid Pervez:

Meanwhile, a medical board comprising three doctors, headed by Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Zahid Pervez, conducted autopsy on the body of Shazia. According to provisional autopsy report, there was a time lapse of 45 hours and 35 minutes between the death and autopsy. It has been reported that 16 injuries including incision wounds were found on different parts of the dead body. The wounds were skin deep ranging from 3 to 6 cm. Liver, heart, lungs, etc., were found normal. The report said there was no rib fracture, and signs of rape were also not found. Samples of brain, lung, liver, spleen and muscle were sent for histopathology and chemical examination. It is also learnt that around 13 out of 16 wounds were inflicted with rusted weapon, while three wounds were inflicted with sharp-edged weapon. Medical board was of the view that the malnutrition and constant physical and mental torture could be the result of death of minor girl. However, the real cause of death would be ascertained after the report of chemical examiner and histopathology. The autopsy report showed that intoxicants were also given to the victim.

Misreporting by the accused could also be judged from the hospital record, collected by The News. According to the record, the victim was admitted to Medical Emergency of Jinnah Hospital Lahore at 11:51 pm on January 21, 2010. The accused got registered the name of Shazia’s father as Ansar, instead of Bashir Masih, and age 14 years instead of 12. The accused got admitted Shazia on the pretext that she was mentally retarded. The victim was shifted to Medical Unit-4 on Friday morning and she died at 2:15 pm on the same day (January 22, 2010).

A doctor at Jinnah Hospital, on the condition of anonymity, said the victim was received almost dead, as the artificial respiratory procedure was started soon after her admission. He said the victim should have been shifted to Surgical Ward due to fatal wounds, but as the accused lawyer had approached one of the professors of MU-4, the victim was shifted to that ward. At the time of admission, doctors of MU-4 were on duty at Medical Emergency, the doctor maintained. Moreover, three children of victim family were also recovered late at night.

2. Now here is the Pakistan Christian Post report on the second autopsy conducted on Shazia Masih.

Lahore: February 10, 2010. (PCP) A medical board comprising of 9 Muslim doctors constituted by medical superintendent of Jinnah Hospital Lahore to investigate cause of death of 12 years old Christian housemaid Shazia Bashir issued here final report.

The infection in wounds and lack of nutrition were declared cause of death by this ever big medical board constituted to make public cause of death in any case in Pakistan.

This medical board also confirmed that there was no evidence of negligence by Jinnah Hospital doctors or staff in death of Shazia.

3. Here’s another report in The News about this second autopsy report:

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz PML (N) and bureaucracy of the Punjab government bulldozed justice in Pakistan with fabricated medical reports in poor housemaid Shazia killing case.

A court report said that the Additional District and Sessions Judge Shafique ur Rehman Saturday granted bail to Chaudhry Naeem advocate, the main accused in housemaid Shazia Masih murder case, and confirmed pre-arrest bails of his wife and son. Naeem’s son Haris and wife Ghazala had filed applications for pre-arrest bail. The court also granted post-arrest bail to Amanat, a middleman allegedly involved in child labour.

As the proceedings started on Saturday, the complainant’s lawyers were forced to withdraw their power of attorney as a large number of lawyers had gathered inside the courtroom in support of Naeem advocate. They pressurized and harassed the complainant’s lawyers, while the court meekly succumbed to the threatening postures of the militant blackcoats, whose muscles were never so in demand in the arsenals of the judiciary, especially when their current tug of war with the parliament heating up.

No wonder that the judge further upheld the ‘fresh’ medical reports had established that Shazia did not die due to physical torture rather she was suffering from a dangerous infectious disease. The judge held that the applicability of Section-302 PPC was shrouded in mystery while Section 344 PPC was bailable in nature.

To anyone reading these two reports, the question is clearly is WHY was the second autopsy ordered? And why were the results of this second autopsy so different from the first one? Could it be that the second autopsy was ordered to cover up the explosive results of the first one? Advocate Naeem’s lawyers used the second autopsy report to successfully argue that there was no evidence of foul play in Shazia Masih’s death and that she had been instead suffering from a chronic disease and Advocate Naeem was then granted pre-arrest bail on February 13.

But the NPR story makes no mention of any of these irregularities.

Instead, the NPR story goes on to uncritically present the legal community’s version of the story

Legal Community Decries Charges

Members of the Lahore Bar Association condemn the case against Naeem, their former leader, as a witch hunt. The association’s vice president, Zulfiqar Mankee, says the media have defamed a respected member of the legal fraternity.

“In my opinion, media murdered Chaudhry Naeem as well as his family. Now Chaudhry Naeem and his family [are] only breathing, not living a honorable life. That decent guy,” Mankee said.

Naeem says Shazia ate from the garbage bin. “I thought she was mentally retarded,” he said.

The family says Shazia was healthy and did not suffer from developmental or mental disabilities.

He kept her in his house because he says her parents wouldn’t take her back. And he says he couldn’t return her.

“I worked from 7 a.m. to 6:30 at night. When would I have time?” he said.

But human-rights activist and lawyer Jahangir isn’t convinced. “He’s a lawyer. He should have gone to the police and said, look, this child is very ill, her parents don’t take her. Can I put her in an institution where she can be looked after?” Jahangir said. She’s not just simply there to do your chores. It’s that basic compassion that is so missing. It’s that basic attitude that people who work for you are your slaves.”

There are several issues here.

1. Why does this report not see it fit to mention the threats made by the Lahore legal community against any lawyer who would take up Shazia Masih’s case? Or the mass protests organized by the Lahore legal community in the days following the media coverage of this case. Here’s a little reminder:

From Dawn:

Shazia case accused remanded in custody
By Wajih Ahmed Sheikh
Wednesday, 27 Jan, 2010
LAHORE: Lawyers of the Lahore Bar Association turned their guns on the media when their colleague Advocate Chaudhry Naeem, who is the main accused in the Shazia murder case, was brought to the court of a magistrate here on Tuesday.

The magistrate granted three-day physical remand of Mr Naeem to police and adjourned the hearing till Feb 3. The wife and sister-in-law of Mr Naeem, also nominated in the FIR, obtained interim pre-arrest bails till Feb 3 from an additional district and sessions judge.

Scores of lawyers who had gathered in the court raised slogans against journalists and stopped them from covering the court proceedings. The Lahore Bar Association accused the media of having launched a ‘nefarious’ campaign against its former president.

Members of the bar claimed that the media was presenting the case in an unfair manner. They claimed that the girl had not been killed by employer or his family but had died after falling from stairs.

Some angry lawyers also tried to push media personnel out of court premises. Some of them cut camera cables of a few TV channels.

A general house meeting of the LBA, convened by its newly elected president Sajid Bashir at the civil courts, condemned what it termed biased reporting by the media in the case and vowed to deal with the media sternly.

It adopted a resolution against the media and announced that the lawyers would boycott courts on Wednesday in support of Naeem. The association also banned the entry of reporters of one TV channel into court premises.

Lawyers of Chaudhry Naeem claimed that Shazia suffered from a chronic disease and he got her treated by highly qualified doctors.

Notice how there are two conflicting theories about her death – the lawyers are saying she fell down the stairs, Chaudhry Naeem’s lawyers are arguing she suffered from a chronic disease. Clearly, none of them care enough to even coordinate their various stories. All they care about is that Chaudhry Naeem should not be found guilty of murdering Shazia Masih.

Furthermore, op-ed writer Ayesha Ijaz Khan mentioned the threat made by members of legal community that they would “burn alive” any lawyer who came forward to defend Shazia Masih.

Instead of reporting on any of this controversy, NPR chose to simply uncritically present the lawyer’s community’s version of Masih’s death (a vague combination of i. she was possibly insane, ii. suffered from a chronic disease, iii fell down the stairs) and basically conclude that the facts of the case were too vague to come to any conclusion.

Now this report is bad enough, but the worst part of it, in my opinion, is the part describing Shazia Masih’s family which is essentially taken straight from the legal community’s smear campaign against them:

Razia Bibi, Shazia’s aunt, washed the body when the young girl was delivered home. It was battered and bruised, she says.

“I recall looking at our child’s body, a girl who was beautiful and healthy, and I can’t bear it,” Razia said. “She was human, she was not an animal — all those injuries. We don’t need land or money; we need justice. They killed our daughter.”

But in Pakistan few things are black and white. The case of Shazia trains a spotlight on something murkier: how poverty can compromise even the victims.

Shazia’s mother had enlisted a broker to find her daughter a job with a

wealthy family, a common practice in Pakistan. The family says it received 10,000 rupees — about $125 — from the broker when Shazia was placed in the home of the man who is now charged with her death. Naeem says he paid the broker, Amanat Ali, 15,000 rupees; Ali, is also named in a criminal suit.

Leading human-rights lawyer Asma Jahangir says with the deteriorating economic situation in Pakistan, parents often justify sending their children away to work.

“So it is an uphill task even trying to convince the victims themselves that this is certainly something that in the long term is debilitating for them,” Jahangir says.

In Pakistan, parents do sell their children sometimes. Shazia’s family insists that did not happen in this case.

Doesn’t it strike you as shocking that the reporter is reporting on a murder (and rape and torture) case and completely deflects the discussion to the circumstances of Shazia Masih’s employment, using that to basically cast a shade of gray on a situation that contrary to the reporter’s assertion is clearly black and white? Does it matter how Shazia was brought into Chaudhry Naeem’s employment? Does that in any way excuse her murder? Even if the allegations are true and her family sold her into slavery the issue in question is not how she was brought into child labour but the fact that she was murdered while working for Chaudhry Naeem’s family! Good lord. From the above, the report goes on to conclude:

Nongovernmental organizations, however, have begun to distance themselves from the case as Shazia’s mother and stepfather — now estranged — began to change their story.

OH REALLY. So the mass campaign of intimidation by a powerful lawyer’s lobby couldn’t possibly have anything to do with NGOs ‘distancing themselves’ from the Shazia Masih murder case could it?

And it’s interesting that the local news has carried no such reports of irregularities in Shazia Masih’s family’s story except when reporting the defence lawyers of Advocate Naeem. By and large the local media was very sympathetic to the story of Shazia Masih and her family, that is until some time in February 2010 when it decided to drop the story completely.

The reporter also has not seen fit to quote any members of the Christian community or any journalists reporting on the case. Asma Jahangir’s comments on child labour are well and good, but why has Asma Jahangir (or anyone else) not been interviewed on the stalled progress of this murder trial? Asma Jahangir is a lawyer with immense legal experience. Surely it would have been relevant to quote her on why this case was stuck?

Pertinent questions to have been asked (which were not) are:
1. Why was Advocate Naeem granted pre-arrest bail on February 13? Murder and rape suspects are generally not granted bail.

2. Why has his trial been stalled since then? The death occured in January and it’s now May and there are absolutely no media reports of any progress made in the case since then.

3. Why has the media observed an eery silence on this case since February 2010?

The NPR report didn’t ask any of those questions. Instead, it basically called into question the integrity of Masih’s family, did not even report the struggles that they went through to lodge the FIR in the first place including media reports that Chaudhry Naeem had attempted to bribe the victim’s family to buy their silence.

It’s silly to expect a foreign news organization to do the job of the local media, but what was needed was not more trite bromides on child labour and how bad it is and how “the circumstances of this case might never be known”. What was needed was accurate reporting on the case, and the various mysterious delays in the proceedings against Advocate Naeem and critical analysis of why exactly these delays occurred. This is after all an ongoing murder case, not a platform to vaguely hold forth on child labour and the struggles of the poor. But that’s exactly what NPR used it for.

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One response to “NPR coverage of the Shazia Masih murder case

  1. Agha Ata (USA)

    Shame on you all!

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