September Issue 2010

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

TV anchor Asma Sheerazi was among the first few journalists to visit Sialkot, to report on the grisly murders of the two brothers. In this Newsline report, Asma gives a telling account of her trip to Buttar Village, where Mughees and Muneeb Butt were clubbed to death, and Haji Pura, where the victims’ family resides.

As I entered the city of Sialkot with the Samaa team, I almost felt as if its streets were resounding with the heart-rending screams and sobs of Mughees and Muneeb as they were being beaten to death. There were banners on the walls proclaiming them as martyrs and denouncing the odious role of the police in the chain of events. It was not difficult to locate the boys’ house; every person in Sialkot seemed to know where the ill-fated family lived. There was embarrassment writ large on the faces of some among them — they had very obviously witnessed the brutal episode for two hours, without raising a murmur of protest.

As we crossed the Haji Pura Chowk, we saw hundreds of youth protesting against the atrocity. They were standing on the main road, in front of the street that led to the victims’ residence. They had banners in their hands and were chanting anti-police slogans: ‘Punjab Police, murdabad.’ The atmosphere was highly charged. The police looked unabashed as they stood around to provide a security cover to the Sharif brothers, who were due to visit the family to offer their condolences. We parked our car at a petrol pump close to the street and walked up to the mob to get their version of the incident.

Hafiz Mughees, 18, and Muneeb, 15, came from a well-respected family of Haji Pura, they said. Their father, Sajjad Butt, runs a dispensary at his residence that provides free medical aid to the people of the locality, and both his sons would often lend him a helping hand. The neighbours were full of praise for both the boys: “They were really intelligent and down-to-earth.” Mughees, the elder son, was a Hafiz-e-Quran, a first year student and also a body-builder. Muneeb, the youngaer son, was studying in class nine and was a bright student. In the Board results, which were declared after his death, he secured 342 marks out of 480, and stood second in his school.

I walked through the long stretch of Haji Pura to reach the house of the aggrieved family where scores of people were waiting to offer their condolences. The entrance led to a small lounge that opened into a wide courtyard. I saw the boys’ mother seated there, a picture of grief, surrounded by a group of women. I was told that the previous night she had caught a few clips of the brutality inflicted upon her sons on a TV channel and had gone into shock. She had to be rushed to the hospital where she was kept under observation all night. I walked up to her and introduced myself, and in a frail voice she said, “I’ve lost my whole world. My sons were publicly butchered, and I am surprised that neither did the earth explode nor did the skies fall. But I will not shed a single tear. My sons have been martyred and my eyes are turned to the heavens. I expect justice from God.”

A total stranger was offering his condolences to the father, “I have been unable to sleep ever since I watched that footage. I can’t hold back my tears. I didn’t know what to do, where to go; so I rushed here to see you. I am with you all the way.”

While we were standing there, we learnt that the Sharif brothers, who were expected to visit the Butt family in Sialkot, could not get security clearance from the police due to the presence of a highly charged mob that was waiting for them outside the family’s house. So they decided to meet the family at the residence of Khwaja Asif, MNA of the area.

Haji Pura, where Mughees and Muneeb resided, falls in the constituency of Khwaja Muhammad Asif. It is a PML-N stronghold. Just two kilometres away from Haji Pura is the deadly spot where this atrocity took place — the Rescue 1122 office, which is located on the brink of Buttar Village. The mob that killed the two brothers belonged to this village, which falls in the constituency of PPP minister Firdous Ashiq Awan. But as Sialkot is a PML-N stronghold, all the key police officers are political appointees of the PML-N leaders. The appointment of the then DPO, Waqar Chohan, is said to have enjoyed their blessings.

Surprisingly, as we emerged from Haji Pura street, we saw nearly 40 to 50 people on motorbikes, with sticks in their hands, pass by the street where the bereaved family lives, issuing threats to the demonstrators we had seen earlier: “Those brothers were dacoits and we will see you all.” The police watched in silence, once again.

We were informed that teams of other news channels who tried to approach the Rescue 1122 office were stoned by the Buttar Village mob, so no one attempted to go there. I spoke to the new DPO regarding security but he was busy with the Sharifs, and the police told us categorically that they would not escort us: “You will go there at your own risk; we cannot provide you with any security whatsoever.”

02Asma_Shirazi09-10The Samaa team decided to take the risk. Due to the highly-charged atmosphere near the Rescue 1122 office, I had to contact my cousin in Khanpur Syedan, a nearby village, to provide us with security guards in case the situation got out of hand. As soon as we arrived at the Rescue office, it was attacked by an angry mob, who smashed all its glass windows. Tyres were also being burnt on the road. But we remained undeterred. As we started setting up our equipment at the location, some police officials approached us and warned us that we were posing a huge security risk to them and that they would not allow us to film in front of the Rescue 1122 office. When we insisted, they informed us that they were leaving the venue and that if any a law-and-order situation developed, the entire responsibility would be ours. With that, they left the scene and we continued with our work.

During the course of filming, we got to hear two versions of the story. One was that Mughees and Muneeb were great cricket buffs and would play a lot of cricket with their friends in Buttar Village. According to one source, the two brothers had had a quarrel earlier with some people in the village over cricket. On the morning of August 15, the brothers had sehri, following which Mughees, who was a Hafiz-e-Quran, recited some ayats from the Quran for his mother — something which he often did — and then both brothers took their motorcycle and left to play cricket. Around the same time there had been a dacoity in the Buttar area, leading to a firing incident in which two persons were injured. The dacoits successfully fled the area, leaving the brothers, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, to bear the wrath of a violent mob. Possibly the people they had earlier had a fight with, accused them of being in cahoots with the dacoits out of vendetta.

However, people in Buttar Village claim that the two brothers were, indeed, dacoits who had carried out the robbery, and the elder brother fired in panic when his younger brother was caught by a mob, injuring four people, two of them seriously.

Angered, the people of the area started to beat them up. Finally, the police arrived and took the boys into police custody. They kept them at the Rescue 1122 office but a mob, ostensibly tired of the robberies that had been taking place in the area regularly, started gathering in front of the police’s emergency force building. Meanwhile, reports of the death of Bilal, one of the persons injured in the firing, surfaced. That’s when the mob went berserk. They entered the 1122 office, grabbed the two brothers and then unfolded a gory spectacle, like never seen before. The mob, in the presence of more than a dozen policemen, started beating up the two brothers with hockeys sticks, rods, and whatever they could lay their hands on. Muneeb, the younger one, died within 15 minutes of the brutal thrashing, while Mughees bore the bestiality for nearly two hours before falling silent. Then their legs were tied up and they were hung upside down from a water tank pipe adjacent to the Rescue 1122 office. When they were brought down, Mughees still appeared to be breathing so the crowds smashed his head. The bodies of the brothers were then put on a trolley and paraded through the streets of Sialkot, escorted by a police mobile, passing by their own home — unknown to their parents.

To recount this tragic episode from the actual spot where the incident took place was a tough call. We got everything lined up. But the situation took a nasty turn when more than 2,000 people from Buttar Village gathered in front of the Rescue 1122 office with sticks and iron rods in their hands. It was iftar time and they all had iftari packets in their hands. They were also carrying banners that justified the killings on the grounds that “the boys were dacoits” and “killers of our people.” Soon after iftar, the crowd suddenly rushed towards us and encircled us. They told us to leave the place before they did worse with us. Keeping in view the security of my team members and equipment, I decided to engage with them. I told them that I would like to talk to their elders. A senior lawyer, aged around 55 years, stepped in front of me angrily and started exchanging harsh words. He told me that the media was only presenting a one-sided version of the story hence they would not be allowed near the Rescue 1122 office. I told him that if they behaved in this manner, how could they expect the media to project their stance? I reassured him that people wanted to hear their side of the incident too and that I would not leave Sialkot till I got their version. It took me a full 20 minutes to convince them and finally they relented. That’s how we managed to get the VTR rolling.

We shot the front of the Rescue 1122 office, including the place where Mughees and Muneeb were clubbed to death and hanged. I gave the elders of the area full opportunity to present their case. Then I asked them to set aside the allegation of dacoity against the boys and tell me if the law of the land allowed anyone to inflict such brutality on two human beings. How could they take the law into their own hands? An elderly lawyer present there said, “We all agree that whatever happened was inhuman and it should never have happened, but you must understand human psychology. Man is a social animal, and when he gets emotional to the extent that he forgets all humanity and becomes a beast — all of us became beasts that day. But they forced us to do it. They were dacoits operating in this area and after they killed one of our own, how could we have spared them.” The crowds were equally defensive about the police: “How could a few policemen hold back an angry mob that was hell-bent on avenging the killing?” they asked.

We managed to keep the enraged crowds engaged till we completed the Buttar Village part of the episode, and then we left the area quickly and headed towards Haji Pura to meet with the bereaved family and get their version of the event on camera. The family denied all the charges. But apparently they were so traumatised by allegations of their sons being dacoits the first day that the father could not muster the courage to go and collect his sons’ bodies from the morgue. It was his brother who went to collect the bodies and approached the Supreme Court for justice when he saw the sickening video and the manner in which his nephews were clobbered to death. The view around most of Sialkot, including Buttar Village is that, even if the boys were involved in theft, “it was brutality of the worst kind, it should never have happened; it has destroyed Sialkot’s image.”

The most important factor that emerged from my coverage of this tragic episode was the negligent attitude of the police, the custodians of law, that made it all possible. They presided over, and participated in, this act of barbarism.

The Punjab government machinery took too long to realise the gravity of the situation. It was only when the Supreme Court swung into action that they woke up. The Regional Police Officer (RPO), Zulfiqar Cheema, has now been transferred. Earlier, Cheema had been branded a hero and awarded a medal for killing two dacoits in encounters and parading their bodies in the streets of Sialkot to wild cheering by the crowds.

The prime witness of this most recent episode, DPO Waqar Chohan, has been put under house arrest. Fourteen of the 18 policemen who were a witness to the event have been arrested, but the SHO is absconding. Meanwhile, Rescue 1122 has absolved itself of all responsibility by saying that once they handed over the victims to the police their responsibility ended.

The family of the deceased and the whole nation is waiting to see if justice will be allowed to take its course. Reportedly, there is a strong “peti bachao brigade” in Sialkot that is covering up for the police and wants to save them from being incarcerated. Also, Haji Pura and Buttar Village are strongholds of the PML-N and the PPP respectively, so it wouldn’t be surprising if this episode were to be politicised and used to settle scores or score points.

It would be a shame if politics were played over the dead bodies of two young kids, who were killed so brutally in the prime of youth, in the presence of the police and the public.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Newsline under the title “The Day Humanity Died.”