Had he not confessed and surrendered, he could have carried on undetected for any length of time, for the police had absolutely no clue about the children disappearing from the streets, getting killed and dissolved in acid. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story that came to light with the surrender of Javed Iqbal, and many aspects of which remain unclear to date.
During the arguments on charge, the defence argued that the charges against Iqbal be dropped because there was no complainant in the case, nor was there any eyewitness to the offences allegedly committed by Iqbal. It was also argued that the circumstantial evidence was also not strong enough for Iqbal to be charged with the offences.
A petition filed by a lawyer called Aftab Ahmad Bajwa challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try the case arguing that the offences allegedly committed by Iqbal were terrifying and in view of the same the special courts adjudicating offences relating to acts of terrorism had the jurisdiction to conduct trial in Iqbal’s case. Both the prosecutor and the defence opposed the petition. The prosecution and the defence reportedly argued that the case could be referred to the anti-terrorist court only if chemicals were used for the alleged killings whereas in Iqbal’s case the chemical had been used only to dispose the bodies after the children had been killed by strangulation. This appears to be a rather strange distinction because the act of terror is distinguishable from any other crime on basis of the intent behind the offence and not on the basis of the means used. One could use a gun to kill people and it could either be a case of culpable homicide or an act of terror depending upon the intent of the killer. Similarly, in this case, if Iqbal had used the chemicals to kill the children, it would still be a case of murder and not an act of terrorism because spreading terror was never the objective behind the killings.
However, the arguments made against charging the accused as well as the petition challenging the jurisdiction of the court were dismissed, and Iqbal was charged with the crimes he was accused of in the charge-sheet submitted by the police.
Well over 90 prosecution witnesses testified in the case and were duly cross-examined by the defence counsel. The witnesses included judicial magistrate Mian Ghulam Husain, who had, as per the version of the prosecution, recorded the confessional statement of Javed Iqbal. The defence disputed that the magistrate had recorded a confession admissible in evidence. During the course of the trial, the statements of the relatives of three missing children that Javed Iqbal had been charged with the murder of were also recorded in the presence of Iqbal and his three alleged accomplices in crime, Nadeem, Shahzad and Sabir.
At one point during the trial it was also reported that defence counsel Mr. Najib Faisal, who was representing the main accused, Javed Iqbal, told the court that he was under pressure to not cross-examine the prosecution witnesses independently. He reportedly said that he had been told that if he continued to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses the way he was doing he would not be paid the agreed sum of Rs. 30,000 for representing Javed Iqbal. Mr. Najib had been engaged by the government to represent Javed Iqbal and perhaps he was feeling some pressure from certain quarters of the government against zealously defending Iqbal, who was a monster in the eyes of the people already. However, the issue did not last long because Mr. Najib asked the court to give him an hour to decide whether he would continue as Javed’s counsel or not. An hour later, when Mr. Najib returned, he resumed cross-examining the judicial magistrate without formally apprising the court of his decision, which was anyway quite clear from his proceeding with the trial.
Judicial magistrate Mian Ghulam Husain testified that the accused were produced before him the first time on December 31, 1999 by the police with a request for police remand. The magistrate took the handwriting samples of the accused on January 5, 2000 and thereafter the accused had remained under police custody until January 13, 2000, when they were produced before him again, and which was also when he recorded their confessional statements. In answer to a question by the defence counsel the judicial magistrate said that the accused had not filed a formal application in writing requesting the recording of confession. They had made a verbal request on January 6, 2000, which was granted on January 13, 2000 after being apprised of the possible legal ramifications of the confession.
The magistrate clarified that the request for recording the confession was not allowed at the first instance when it was made on January 6, 2000, but when the accused reiterated their desire to confess again on January 13, 2000, they were told that it could be used against them. But when they, after fully understanding the possible consequences, insisted on confessing, their confessional statements were recorded by him in his own handwriting, and on each page of the statement the signatures and the thumb impression of the confessing accused were obtained. The magistrate also said that since Nadeem and Sabir looked like they were minors, he put a few questions to the two in order to ascertain if they understood the possible implications of confessing to such a crime. However, when asked by the defence counsel if he had administered oath to the accused before recording their confession, the magistrate responded in the negative. Therefore, the confessional statements were admittedly not sworn testimonies. However, the magistrate insisted that he had done everything that he was supposed to do in the given circumstance under the law.
ASI Sadiq of Ravi Road police station also testified and told the court that he was part of the police team that raided the house of Javed Iqbal. They had to break the locks on the main gate to gain entry to the house. He further told that they found drums of chemical and other items, including the pictures of the young boys and children’s clothes. The list of the items constituting case property was prepared by him and Station House Officer (SHO) Ashiq Marth.
Khalil Shahzad, the owner of the photo studio that had developed the pictures of the children, told the court that several of the pictures were developed by his photo studio but it was his employees who had developed them. The relatives of the three missing kids identified the items of clothing, the shoes and other things recovered from Iqbal’s house as belonging to the children Iqbal had allegedly murdered.
On March 8, 2000, in response to the questions from Additional District and Sessions Judge Allah Bakhsh Ranjha, Javed Iqbal denied having killed anybody and went on to insist that not even a single child had been killed. Iqbal also submitted a 20-page written statement to the court asserting his innocence. Iqbal said that the alleged confessional statement recorded by the police was given by him under duress and he confessed to having killed the boys in front of the magistrate only because he feared for his life. Iqbal said that he was indeed warned of the possible consequences of the confession, but he had been warned by the police against telling the truth and had been told that in the event of not saying what he had been told to say before the magistrate, he would be killed in a fake encounter. Iqbal said that he just kept admitting as true whatever was read out to him by the magistrate from a copy of the statement.
According to Javed Iqbal, the letter that he had written to the police admitting to having killed as many as 100 children was just his way of drawing attention of the authorities to the plight of the runaway children. When asked about the location of the boys, Iqbal said that it was the job of the police to locate them and he did not have their whereabouts. He also insisted in the written statement that it was the treatment the children received at the hands of their family members that made them run away. The boys, he further insisted, were compulsive homosexuals, and that some of them had actually returned to their respective families, but the parents of those children were keeping their return under wraps.
In order to prove his story, Iqbal said that out of the 100 reported missing and killed, three were his co-accused Sajid, Sabir, and Nadeem, and a fourth was living in Shadbagh.
Jang, the newspaper was in possession of a video recording made by the newspaper of the extra-judicial confession made by Iqbal of his own accord when he had chosen to surrender to the authorities on December 30, 1999, at the office of the newspaper. The court summoned the administration officer of the newspaper directing him to appear before the court with the video recording of the confession made by Iqbal. When the video recording was played in the court, it was noticed that Iqbal had clearly confessed to having killed the children. Iqbal was seen in the recording as saying in response to a direct question, “haan khud mar dia tha [Yes, I had killed (them) myself]”.
Explaining the barrels filled with acid and the human remains found on his property, Iqbal said that it was nothing but engine oil and beef to mislead the police as part of the elaborate ploy staged to draw the attention of the authorities to the runway children.
Iqbal further told the story of being assaulted by his servants, a case in which, he said, the police did not help and charged him with false cases of sodomy instead. He told the court that in the process of recovery from the injuries sustained by him during the attack he underwent as many as five surgeries and his house and cars were sold to support his treatment and his business suffered hugely.
He further told that the idea of staging the drama occurred to him when his friends were looking for the boys who had beaten him up so badly. It was during that time that the thought of doing something for the runaway children came to his mind.
The crime editor of Jang, Jameel Chishti testified that on the day of the surrender Javed Iqbal had voluntarily confessed to killing 100 children and had also revealed that he was assisted by three young boys by the names Sajid, Nadeem and Sabir in the killings. Jameel Chishti also testified that Iqbal had also told that he strangled his victims to death after making them unconscious and disposed of the bodies by dissolving them in a drum filled with acid. According to Chishti, Javed continually talked about the attack on him by his servant that left him half dead. The tapes of the video recorded interview were handed over to the police on January 14, 2000 and Javed’s interview was published in the newspaper on December 31, 1999, Chisti told the court.
In a trial lasting two months, some 105 witnesses were produced by the prosecution in support of its case against Javed Iqbal, out of which 73 were the family members of the missing children, and the rest included the policemen associated with the investigation and the editor of the daily Jang. At the close of the trial, two of the boys who had assisted Iqbal were awarded life sentences whereas Sajid and the main accused Javed Iqbal himself were sentenced to death.
Delivering the judgment in a packed courtroom on March 16, 2000, Additional Sessions Judge, Allah Bakhsh Ranjha invoked the Islamic principles of sentencing, and said to Javed Iqbal, “You will be strangled to death in front of the parents whose children you killed… Your body will then be cut into 100 pieces and put in acid, the same way you killed the children.”
The judge ordered that the two convicts sentenced to death be taken to the market square, and the sentence be carried out as ordered in front of the families of the victims. He further ordered that both the convicts were to be strangled with the same chain that they had used to kill their victims, and after their deaths, their bodies were to be dismembered and dissolved in acid the same way as the bodies of the victims had been dissolved by them.
However, soon after the decision was handed down, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Moinudeen Haider, said that it was not possible to carry out such a sentence because a sentence of that kind was not permissible under the law of the land and was also barred by the international laws pertaining to human rights.
However, before the final verdict on the case could be pronounced, the jail officials of the Kot Lakhpat Jail of Lahore announced on the morning of October 8, 2001 that Javed and his young accomplice, Sajid, who had also been sentenced to death, had been found dead in their respective cells that were adjacent to each other. They had been found hanging with the bed sheets. The jail authorities said that the two had committed suicide. However, the police investigators as well as a few independent observers suspected foul play.
The autopsy revealed that both the deceased had bled from their noses and mouths when they died, and there were marks of injuries on the body of Sajid. On Javed’s body there were partially healed wounds inflicted by a blunt object of some kind. The investigation into the death of the duo remains inconclusive.