Shabbir Zaib, a British national and father of three, was arrested whilst on holiday in Pakistan in June 2008. He was accused of murdering his wife and, following torture by the police, signed a confession. On 4 February 2010, after 17 agonising months behind bars, Shabbir was finally acquitted and released from prison.
On 29 June 2008, four armed men entered Shabbir’s house, demanding money. They tied and hooded Shabbir’s wife and mother-in-law. One of the men shot Shabbir in his right leg. Shabbir’s wife started screaming and as a result they shot her twice in the head. She died instantly and the men fled the scene.
Shabbir was taken to the hospital. He reported the crime to the police the same night. The police came to the hospital to take his statement. He was in extreme pain but was able to give his account to the police. However, eleven days later Shabbir was arrested for killing his wife.
From the moment he was arrested, Shabbir was subjected to cruel treatment. Techniques used to force Shabbir into a confession included falaka – this consists of whipping the foot with a rod or a cane rendering him unable to walk. Falaka is favoured as a form of torture because, although it is extremely painful, it leaves few physical marks.
“I was told by the police that, “this is what we do”, and they told me that I needed to confess, but they did not tell me what I needed to confess to. Then the next night, they took me out and they tied me up. They then beat my feet. They hit me 15 times. It hurt so much that I almost fainted; it was like being hit with a knife. I told them that I wanted to help and would do whatever they wanted, so they went away and came back with a blank piece of paper that they wanted me to sign. I needed to sign it at the bottom and at various points up the side. The old man then told me that no-one would beat me anymore, but I would have to stay there a few days. Later I worked out that this was because they needed to give my feet time to recover”
Investigation by Reprieve revealed that witnesses had been encouraged to file witness reports against Shabbir, saying they had seen him shoot his wife. Thanks to the work of Shabbir’s lawyer, Sarah Belal, and Reprieve Fellow Sultana Noon, the prosecution case was severely weakened, and various witnesses retracted their statements. Shabbir was acquitted, leaving him free to return to the UK. In Shabbir’s own words:
“I am so glad that Sarah and Sultana were with me. All of the other prisoners were extremely jealous and could not understand why Sarah would come and visit me so often. They would ask, “Why is your lawyer so interested in your case?” First they asked if she was my wife and then they asked if she was family, but I just said that she was a good lawyer that cared about her clients. Now they all want Sarah to be their lawyer.”
Shabbir’s release shows what we can achieve together, but there are many more prisoners who need our help.