Two household staff imprisoned for 10 years each, while parents of convict and employees of Therapy Works employees acquitted of all charges
Zahir Jaffer, the primary accused in the murder and beheading of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, was on Thursday sentenced to death by a Sessions Court in Islamabad, which also sentenced his household staff—Iftikhar and Jameel—to 10 years’ imprisonment each.
The court sentenced Zahir to death under Section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). “He be hanged by his neck till he is dead,” reads the short order, adding he must also pay Rs. 500,000 as compensation to the legal heir of the deceased. “In case of non-payment of compensation amount, it shall be realized as arears of land revenue. In case of non-realization of the said amount, the convict shall have to undergo six months [imprisonment],” it added.
It also sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment under Section 364 of the PPC, with an additional fine of Rs. 100,000; one year’s imprisonment under Section 342; and 25 years’ imprisonment under Section 376(1) of the PPC as well as a fine of Rs. 200,000. “The sentences of imprisonment shall run concurrently,” it added.
Household staff Muhammad Jan and Muhammad Iftikhar, meanwhile, were both sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and Rs. 300,000 in fines, each.
Reading out his short order, which had been reserved on Feb. 22 after the completion of final arguments, Additional Sessions Judge Ata Rabbani acquitted co-accused Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, Zahir’s parents, as well as employees of the Therapy Works organization that had been present at the crime scene.
“It was a test case for the judiciary and justice has been served,” Noor’s father, former ambassador Shaukat Mukadam, told media outside the court after the verdict was announced. Expressing satisfaction with the outcome of the trial, he thanked the media for its coverage of the trial, noting it had ensured the heinous crime did not go unpunished. “An exemplary punishment has been given to the primary accused,” he added.
Zahir’s counsel, Sikander Zulqarnain, reiterated that he would challenge the trial court’s verdict before the Islamabad High Court, and claimed there was enough evidence to mitigate his client’s sentence.
Speaking with Newsweek after the verdict was announced, he said he was not “surprised” by the sentencing and reiterated allegations of a “one-sided investigation” against his client. “People are believing in inadmissible and circumstantial evidence, which was presumed by the police, and the whole trial was conducted on mere presumption,” he said. “The evidences are not well connected, these are rather well shattered,” he claimed.
The defense counsel went on to allege that Zahir was denied a medical checkup in prison to determine whether he needed to be treated for drug abuse, adding that his client suffered from “drug psychosis.” Describing his client as a “drug abused child,” he claimed Zahir had been unable to understand his actions due to the drugs he was consuming.
Referring to Zahir’s antics during the trial—the convict would often appear in a daze or collapse in what was seen as an attempt to garner sympathy—Zulqarnain alleged that his client had also been taking drugs while imprisoned. “During one hearing, he was having fits and was on a stretcher while on the next hearing he was walking on his foot and looked physically fit,” he said, claiming this could not be explained otherwise.
The gruesome murder of Noor Mukadam has been making headlines for seven months. The 27-year-old’s beheaded body was found at Zahir Jaffer’s residence in Islamabad on July 20, 2021, prompting mass outrage and calls for speedy justice for her family. A day later, police arrested Zahir, the son of leading businessman Zakir Jaffer, and sought his physical remand for further investigation.
In a First Information Report registered by Noor’s father, he alleged that his daughter had gone missing from their home on July 19. He said that after attempts to contact her had failed, with her phone turned off, a search was launched. A few hours later, he wrote, Noor had called and informed the family that she was traveling to Lahore with some friends and would return in a day or two.
According to the FIR, Shaukat had also received a call from Zahir, whose family were acquaintances of the ex-diplomat, and been told that Noor was not with him. He said that on July 20, around 10 p.m., he had received a call from the Kohsar police station informing him that Noor had been murdered. After identifying his daughter’s body, he sought the maximum punishment under the law for Zahir over murdering his daughter.
Following an initial query, Zahir’s parents and household staff were arrested on July 24 for allegedly “hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime.” As public outcry mounted, police said Zahir had confessed to killing Noor and that his DNA and fingerprints had also implicated him. He subsequently recanted this in court.
After several months of investigation, including examination of CCTV footage; forensics; and interrogation, a trial court indicted Zahir along with 11 others—his parents, three household staff, and the CEO and five employees of TherapyWorks—in the case on Oct. 14. The murder trial formally began on Oct. 20, with initial reports noting that the evidence was “open and shut.”
As the trial neared completion, Zahir’s counsel filed an application on Dec. 1 seeking the constitution of a medical board to determine his client’s mental state, claiming his erratic behavior in court suggested he was not mentally fit to stand trial. The court rejected this and also dismissed a subsequent insanity plea, ruling that the accused was “normal” and was “in his senses” at the time he committed the crime.
The defense counsel has made several attempts to either reduce the severity of Zahir’s sentencing or get him absolved of the crime. In one instance, he tried to paint the murder as an “honor killing,” claiming police had failed to interrogate victim’s brother during the investigation.
“This is a matter of live-in relationship [between accused and the victim], frayed emotions could overwhelm anyone and it could be a matter of honor,” he alleged during his final arguments. “Why did the police not interrogate the only brother of the victim,” he said and went on to suggest the investigation officer had “fabricated” the narrative of his client’s involvement in the murder.
Zahir, denying his involvement in the murder of Noor, had also claimed in court that the victim had arranged a “drug party” at his home, adding that he had lost consciousness and was not aware of who might have killed her. None of this could be verified through CCTV footage.