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Yousaf Family

Volume 516: debated on Tuesday 12 October 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Duddridge.)

I secured this debate to bring to the attention of the House the murder of three of my constituents—Mohammed Yousaf, Pervez Yousaf and Tania Yousaf—who were killed in Pakistan on 20 May 2010. I will start by setting out the facts of the case, explain what the family have done in their quest for justice and then touch on some of the wider issues and where I hope that the Government can assist.

Mohammad Yousaf, aged 51, his wife Pervez, aged 49, and their 22-year-old daughter, Tania, were all British citizens living in Nelson in my constituency. Mohammad Yousaf had lived in the UK for more than 40 years, working for many years as a furniture manufacturer making beds, and for a period running a small business before retiring. He also helped his wife Pervez raise their six children—three sons and three daughters. One of those daughters was Tania. Born in Nelson on 13 September 1987, she attended Lomeshaye primary school and Walshaw high school, where she is fondly remembered.

After leaving school, Tania married and had two young boys of her own—three-year-old Arien and nine-month-old Harris. She worked for Pendle borough council and then as a clerical assistant at business solutions firm Liberata in Nelson. Back in May, her manager, Wendy Smith, was reported in The Times newspaper describing Tania as

“a hard-working and conscientious member of the team who was always happy and one of the nicest people we have ever met. She had a lovely sense of humour and was always a team player.”

The Yousaf family decided in April 2010 to make a trip to Pakistan to arrange the wedding of their 24-year-old son, Asad Yousaf. They flew to Pakistan in two groups on 22 and 27 April. Asad’s wedding took place on 5 May, and all family members returned back to the UK on 19 May, apart from Mohammed, his wife Pervez, their daughter Tania and her children. On 20 May, at approximately 12.35 pm, Mohammed, Pervez, Tania and Mohammed Anwar—another UK citizen—entered the village of Mararian Sharif, near Gujrat, Punjab. They were in this area to visit a family member—Nusrat Bibi—and also to pay respects at the grave of a deceased family member, Mohammed Zaman.

The family entered the village in two cars, one being driven by Ghulam Abbas, the family’s driver, and the other by Mohammed Anwar. After spending some time at the residence of Nusrat Bibi, they had lunch before proceeding to the graveyard. At approximately 2.20 pm, Mohammed, Pervez and Tania, along with Mohammed Anwar and Nusrat Bibi, entered the graveyard to pay their respects, along with their driver, Ghulam Abbas. It was then, while in the graveyard, praying and paying their respects, that they were ambushed by a group of armed men. The gunmen shot Mr and Mrs Yousaf and Nusrat Bibi with Kalashnikov rifles, before dragging the daughter, Tania, from the family’s car. After dragging Tania from the car, the gunmen made her call her husband for help on her mobile phone. The call connected, but before Tania could explain to her husband what was happening, she was killed with him still listening on the line.

To illustrate further the sheer brutality of these murders, I can today for the first time, and with the permission of the Yousaf family, reveal that at Tania’s post-mortem, more than 100 bullets were removed from her body. Owing to the almost indiscriminate use of automatic weapons in the incident, one of the gunmen, Khursheed Arif, was killed, along with an innocent street vendor. An aunt of the gunmen was also injured, leaving a total of six people dead and one injured, three of the dead being the Yousaf family, who were British nationals and constituents of mine.

The whole incident was witnessed by Mohammed Anwar and Ghulam Abbas, the driver, and they saw at first hand how the brutal incident unfolded. At 3 pm, a first information report was registered with the police by one of the eye witnesses, Mohammed Anwar, naming the murderers as Khursheed Arif, Sheraz Arif, Naveed Arif and Qamar Abbas, along with other unidentified people. The police attended the scene, and while they were present Qamar Abbas reappeared, and was recognised and duly arrested. Therefore, out of the four people named in the initial police report, one was dead, one was under arrest and two—Naveed and Sheraz Arif—were on the run.

At this point I would like to try and shed some light on the motive for these senseless murders. If what I have described so far is not shocking enough in itself, these cold-blooded murders were not perpetrated by a lawless gang; rather, the culprits were actually known and related to the Yousaf family. The accused—Khursheed Arif, Sheraz Arif and Naveed Arif—are all brothers. Their sister, Nabeela Mahmood, was married to Kamar Yousaf, the eldest son of Mohammed and Pervez Yousaf, in 1999. Over a period of time, Nabeela and Kamar had marital problems, which eventually led to Nabeela moving out of the marital home around 12 months before the incident took place. I understand that the two families were keen to help to save the marriage, and there was frequent dialogue, with no indications that this would or could lead to violence. However, on 20 May the Arif family brothers turned up at the graveyard with only one intention in mind—murder.

Yousaf family members have told me—I believe them—that if there had been any indication that those marital difficulties could have led to violence, their parents would not have travelled at all, or would at least have travelled with security, as is frequently the case in Pakistan. On 21 May—the day after the killings—the other members of the Yousaf family returned to Pakistan to organise and attend the funeral services for the three deceased. From the time that they arrived back in Pakistan until the time that they got home to the UK, their lives were threatened repeatedly by members of the Arif family.

On the same day, following pressure from the Yousaf family and the media, the police made moves towards arresting the two accused men, Naveed and Sheraz Arif. Unbelievably, however, given the gravity of what is alleged, they were granted bail until 26 May. The Yousaf family continually protested to the police and the relevant authorities that bail should not have been granted in such circumstances, as they believed that the accused would abscond. On 26 May, the accused failed to appear at the police station, and they remain on the run now, five months after the murders took place.

From the day of the murders until now, I have done whatever I can to assist the family in their quest for justice. In fact, I referred to the case in my maiden speech, when I committed myself to doing whatever I could to ensure that the family obtained justice through the Pakistani courts. The family have tried several different means to secure justice through the Pakistani judicial system. They have kept in constant contact with the police and relevant authorities in Pakistan. They have met Pakistani politicians and Ministers visiting the UK to highlight the case to them. The “Justice for the Yousaf Family” Facebook group has more than 2,500 members. The case has also been widely reported in both the British and Asian press, helping to raise awareness.

I was also very grateful that the Minister took the time to meet the family and me at the Foreign Office in July to discuss the details of this case and what, if anything, the British Government could do to assist. The family accept that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s powers are limited, but I would be grateful if the Minister were to refer to that meeting and tell me what, if anything, he or his Department has been able to do since.

Members will have noticed the significant number of people in the Public Gallery listening to this Adjournment debate tonight, which speaks volumes for the desire of the family and their supporters to get justice through the Pakistani legal system. Sadly, however, the killers remain at large and the family still do not have justice. Despite numerous expressions of support and warm words, there has been little progress on the ground in Pakistan. The police seem to have put numerous people in charge of the case since the murders, but the investigation appears to be going nowhere. Each new person who is appointed never seems to be given the time to look into the case before he is transferred.

The Yousaf family, who still do not feel it safe to travel to Pakistan, have now employed a barrister in that country, at considerable cost to themselves, to have the relevant cases against the accused and their family members registered and heard. However, given the troubled past of the Pakistani legal process—and corruption, which remains an issue—the family seem to have hit a brick wall, preventing any further action or focus on the case from the authorities.

The family appreciate that neither this House nor the Minister has any powers to intervene in the Pakistani judicial system. However, after five months, they have grave concerns about how seriously the Pakistani authorities are dealing with the case. The family and I hope that by setting out the case today, we will raise awareness of this incident not only here in the UK, but in Pakistan, and that, in doing so, we will bring pressure to bear on those who are in a position to help the family to achieve justice.

I do not wish to diminish the importance of this horrific incident, but it is clear that the implications of whether the Yousaf family get justice or not go well beyond this individual case. In August this year, two other UK citizens, Gul Wazir and his wife Bagum from the Alum Rock area of Birmingham, were also murdered in Pakistan, and hon. Members will remember the case of Sahil Saeed, the five-year-old boy from Oldham who was abducted for ransom while his family were on holiday.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for bringing this matter to the House’s attention. I, too, have been involved in cases relating to justice in Pakistan, and I want briefly to mention my constituent, Mrs Saeeda Dar, whose father has been held without proper trial for more than 20 months. He is 79 years old and a diabetic, and he is being held in very basic conditions. He is a retired headmaster, and his alleged crime was to write a foreword to a pamphlet. I have read a translation of that foreword, and it is very moderate and proper. Many people in Pakistan agree with his very moderate views. Many Members on both sides of the House are very supportive of Pakistan, and I am pleased to include myself in that group as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on Pakistan. However, we feel very strongly about these cases in which justice is not being done. I thank my hon. Friend for giving me this opportunity to bring that case to light.

My hon. Friend brings me to my next point. More than 1 million people living in the UK can trace their roots back to Pakistan, and many of them live in the constituencies of the hon. Members to whom I am grateful for having stayed to listen to the debate tonight.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this Adjournment debate. I want to express my support for the dozens of Yousaf family members and supporters who have come to the House and stayed so late to watch the debate. That really is a testament to the importance of this issue, and I hope that they get some satisfaction and justice very soon. I represent a constituency with a rather large Pakistani community—and with many Kashmiris as well—and I understand the importance of the close links with Pakistan, particularly at a time when the British Pakistani community is doing so much for flood relief in that country. Does my hon. Friend agree that this would be a good time to get justice in this case?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The crux of the matter is that many British Pakistanis hope to keep strong ties with Pakistan and visit the country for weddings, funerals and holidays. Many more who have founded successful businesses here in the UK look to Pakistan as an economy to invest in. It is worth noting that this Saturday our Foreign Secretary will join the Pakistani Foreign Secretary here in London to launch the British Pakistani Foundation, which seeks to encourage and support philanthropy among the British Pakistani diaspora.

British Pakistanis will simply not visit or invest their money in Pakistan if the law and order situation continues to deteriorate and the judicial process seems incapable of delivering justice. Such an outcome is certainly not in the interests of Pakistan. For British Pakistanis to have confidence in the future of that country, cases such as that of the Yousaf family must be dealt with in a swift and fair manner. I therefore urge the Minister to continue to do whatever he can to help get justice for the Yousaf family.

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for securing this debate. Although he arrived in Westminster only relatively recently, we all know that he has a long history of working on behalf of the local communities that now form his constituency. His persistence in following this harrowing case is a further example of how he puts their welfare at the forefront of everything he does. I also thank him for offering me the courtesy of a copy of his remarks before the debate, so that I could more properly answer the questions he put on behalf of his constituents. I would also like to thank the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan), who has a keen interest in Pakistan, for his courtesy in attending the debate. That shows the Government’s interest in and concern for these issues.

I shall not deal in detail with the two interventions of my hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Richard Harrington) and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), but I am happy to receive any further written representations on the points that they raised, which highlight the width of the issue and the depth of concern about the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle has raised.

My hon. Friend has described a horrific crime. Mohammad, Pervez and Tania—a father, mother and daughter—gunned down, far from home and on an occasion that should have been a cause for joy and celebration. It is hard to imagine the anguish that the Yousaf family has been through and it is impossible to overstate how much they want to see those responsible brought to justice. Any one of us would feel the same. The description of the scale of the brutality that we have heard about tonight leaves one wondering how anyone who calls himself a man could machine-gun a woman to death in such circumstances. There is no cultural or traditional justification for killings of this sort. First and foremost, then, I offer my heartfelt condolences and those of the Government to the Yousaf family.

When this Government came into office, we set out three priorities for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Safeguarding national security and building prosperity were two. The third is no less important—support for British nationals around the world. People expect us to be there and to help when they are at their most vulnerable. As the Minister responsible for south Asia, I am determined that we will fulfil that duty.

The Yousaf family have been persistent in their pursuit of justice. They have, I know, seen the Punjab Minister for Law when he visited the UK, and they have spoken to the Pakistani high commissioner in London. The family came to see me, as my hon. Friend said, in July to discuss the case. These are all important efforts and I commend them.

During the course of his remarks, my hon. Friend rightly asked what we have done as a result of that meeting. Our consular staff in Islamabad have remained in touch with the Pakistani police and have sought regular updates on their investigation. These updates have been passed to the family’s police family liaison officer so that they can be given directly to the family. The fact that the police authorities in Pakistan are continually contacted underlines our continuing interest in the ongoing investigation and makes the Pakistani police aware of the continuing interest of the UK Government in the circumstances.

What can be done further to help? As my hon. Friend knows, in the days following the murders, consular staff both in London and Islamabad were in direct contact with the Yousaf family. They explained how the FCO can assist the family in terms of support and advice, but also our limitations with regard to the police investigation. Since then, the local police have been in regular contact with the family through a family liaison officer and our consular staff have passed messages to the family through that route.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the Pakistani police have identified two suspects in the case, both of whom have absconded. Two other suspects have been bailed, and the case against them is now proceeding through the Pakistani justice system. At this stage, when there is an ongoing police investigation overseas, the main priority for us is to ensure that the family receive the information that they want and need as quickly as possible. Trying to gain access and to understand a foreign and unfamiliar system can be extremely distressing, but we can help to some degree. We can suggest the best ways for the family to raise any concerns with the local authorities. We can offer information about the local police system and the legal system. We can point the family in the direction of any legal aid that is available. Here in London, as soon as our consular staff obtain any new information from the Pakistani authorities, we will immediately pass it on to the family.

In any case of this kind, whether at home or abroad, the uncertainty and delay as an investigation proceeds are a source of huge frustration for the family of the victims. They want to see the killers of their loved ones caught and punished as quickly as possible. Again, none of us would feel any different. I know that the Yousaf family are deeply worried about the progress of the investigation into the murders, and want us to do all that we can to maintain pressure on the Pakistani authorities to deal with the case swiftly and decisively.

As my hon. Friend knows, our ability to act in individual cases is limited. I appreciate that he is asking—as are the family—what, if any, pressure we can put on the Pakistani authorities. The British Government cannot interfere in the judicial systems of other sovereign countries, just as we would not allow any interference in our own. Nor do the British police have jurisdiction. The investigation is the responsibility of the Pakistani police and judicial authorities. They will have their own methods of investigation, and their own local experience of similar cases. Difficult though it is for our consular staff, for all of us, and even more for the family, we cannot insist that the Pakistani police investigate this shocking crime in the same way as it might be investigated in the UK. We have no power to do so. Nor can we insist that the British police carry out a joint investigation with the local police.

In many countries, it is a fact that the judicial process takes much longer than in the United Kingdom. When that happens, we cannot insist that a case be handled more swiftly than normal; but we will make representations to the local authorities if we fear that an investigation is not being carried out in line with local procedures, or if there are justified complaints about discrimination. I undertake here and now to my hon. Friend and to the family of Mohammad, Pervez and Tania that should there be such evidence in this investigation, our high commission in Islamabad will raise it with the Pakistani authorities.

Let me also say clearly that I will remain personally engaged in this case—as will my hon. Friend—will continue to follow it closely, and will become involved as and when I can appropriately do so in a manner that might be helpful. I have set out the support I believe that we can and should offer to the family. If any of them do not think that we are providing that support, I shall be pleased to be told about it, and my hon. Friend will tell me.

As was observed by my hon. Friend and others who have spoken tonight, this tragedy is not an isolated incident. That point was made very clearly and strongly to me by the family themselves when they came to see me. Perhaps that is one of the most worrying aspects of the case. It goes without saying that the vast majority of the many visits made each year to Pakistan by British nationals are entirely trouble-free, but over the years we have seen a number of British nationals die in suspicious circumstances in Pakistan, and there have been a number of violent assaults. Since October 2009, there have been nine murders of British nationals in Pakistan of which we are aware, in addition to those of Mohammad, Pervez and Tania. Indeed, there have been two similar cases since the Yousaf family’s own tragic loss, with the deaths of four British nationals.

We cannot say for certain why these tragedies have happened, but there is some evidence to suggest that most have resulted from a family dispute about money, property or marriage. Nor, I should add, are they exclusive to Pakistan. In addition to the work on this particular case, I have asked officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to consider how we can raise awareness of those recent incidents with the Pakistani community here in the United Kingdom. I will also speak to the Pakistan high commissioner, drawing his attention to the incidents and to my worries—and the worries of colleagues who have raised the issue in the House tonight—about their implications, and seeking his views on what, if anything, we can do to prevent such tragedies from happening again and how he and we can reassure families like the Yousafs that the Pakistani authorities will do all in their power to ensure that justice is done.

I mentioned at the start of my speech the two other priorities for the FCO: safeguarding national security and building prosperity. The British Government are committed to a long-term, productive and friendly partnership with Pakistan. Events in Pakistan have a direct impact on our national security and the safety of our citizens, including those of Pakistani heritage. We therefore have a strong interest in helping Pakistan to embed economic and democratic stability. This has been particularly evident in the light of the devastating floods that have hit the country. The UK has led the international response to the flooding, encouraging our international partners to commit support to help Pakistan meet the long-term challenges it faces, and securing European Union agreement to pursue a step change in its relationship with Pakistan, including through increased trade concessions.

All of this goes to show the strength of family relationships between this country and Pakistan, relationships which many Members have experienced, and continue to experience, in our constituencies. It also shows the importance of Pakistan to so many people in the country, and it shows the need for a sense of stability and security to be there in Pakistan for those who visit.

All Members of Parliament are concerned for the welfare of our constituents wherever they may be in the world. I can assure Members that consular staff worldwide share the same concern and desire to do their best for British nationals in need of their assistance. In this case—where none of us can fail to be moved—I again commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle.

We continue to extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Mohammad, Pervez and Tania, and I hope I have made it clear that the remarks made in this debate are likely to go some distance tonight and to be heard by many people. If in any way they help to bring a sense of concern to the authorities who are dealing with the case, and if they raise awareness of the danger to some—although far from all—who visit Pakistan, my hon. Friend will have done a very good job. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that the most important outcome of the case—justice for the family and those who have been killed—is eventually achieved.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.