Because we are essentially hearing only the voice of the accused, through the filter of a limited number of other sources, I've tried to be careful throughout this post to simply show what's presented, without being accusatory or taking it as a foregone conclusion that there is an abortion of justice. I hope further information will accompany the growing interest in this case.
The most linear and coherent account of what happened comes from a piece O'Donnell wrote for the November, 2008 issue of Gwangju News titled "Introducing . . . The 'Free Ali Khan' Campaign" (here, as a .pdf file). A couple of excerpts:
The crime itself, in Salamat’s account, was initially committed by another citizen, a man named Tanveer (also from Pakistan, known to Ali Khan as ‘Vicky’), who Salamat and Khan vaguely knew at the time (in his ‘confession’ Salamat describes Tanveer as “a thug”), the motive being an argument over money, and the act itself being (initially) only witnessed by Salamat. The victim was a Pakistani citizen named Zahid whom Salamat had worked with in the past (Zahid was then working in a factory in Ilsan, near Seoul) and Tanveer and Salamat visited him on February 10th 2003 with the intention of robbing him.
. . .
Salamat’s confession makes clear that this was a common robbery conceived by Tanveer and naively supported by Salamat among desperate circumstances of those on the lowest rung of soceo-economics in Korea – a robbery that went disastrously wrong and ended with Zahid being hit on the head with a hammer by Tanveer, and finally stabbed by Salamat (who, in his version of events, did this at Tanveer’s insistence and feared for his life, and the lives of his family, if he did not).
The same evening, and subsequent to what happened in Ilsan, Tanveer went back to Itaewon, leaving a bag of bloodied clothes with an unquestioning Ali (Ali's letter's reveal a great feeling of regret on his behalf regarding the question of the bag, with Ali feeling a painful sense of his own naivety in blindly accepting something just because he was busy enjoying an evening out). Ali, of course, enjoying himself in Itaewon, was totally unaware that these bloodied clothes would consequently implicate him in the crime.
By the following morning Salamat, worried about what had happened, returned to the scene of the murder and was caught and questioned by the police in Ilsan.
There is a small blogspot site called "Free Ali Khan" active in 2006 and 2007, that collected some then-updates on the case. From a message from his brother, posted September 20, 2006:
[I]n February of 2003, Ali was falsely implicated in a brutal murder in a suburb of Seoul. The killer told police that Ali was an accomplice so that his real accomplice could gain time to flee the country. But unfortunately a brutal and incompetent police department combined with a series of other procedural errors resulted in the rapid conviction of my innocent brother. Ali was sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
This all occurred in spite of numerous eyewitnesses who corroborated Ali’s original statement that he was nowhere near the scene of the crime at the time. Since then we have also obtained a full confession from the co-accused confessing that Ali was not involved and why he lied about Ali’s involvement."
The November, 2008 Gwangju News article has an excerpt purportedly from Salamat, known also as Sammy:
The police and I proceeded to set up Ali. I called Ali who was still oblivious to everything and told him to meet me in Burger King in Itaewon. When the police nabbed Ali in the fast-food restaurant, Ali’s worst fear was some immigration violation. They told Ali to take them to the knapsack. Ali happily obliged only too willing to co-operate and in the process he implicated himself. In the police station, he was cross-examined and Ali told them the truth, which contradicted my statement. The police then beat the hell out of him for 3 hours until he signed a false confession.
A post from October, 2006, brings up the subject of torture with with a proported account from Ali Khan himself.
“I was ordered not to speak, again. Asfandyar also received a sharp blow to the head for no other apparent reason except to instill fear into us. Up to this point, Asfandyar, Shahid, and myself thought that this was an immigration matter and had no other idea of what was going on.“
“At the police station, the police removed the handcuffs from Asfandyar and Shahid, but Sammy and I remained handcuffed. We were in the same room, but ordered not to speak. If we spoke, they struck us. I was then taken to an interrogation room alone. They asked me questions only in Korean. I told them that I don’t understand Korean. No translator was present. They beat me for awhile with their fists and feet. They also placed a broom handle behind my knees, made me kneel on the floor, and then jumped on the broomstick. The pain was terrible. I also had difficulty breathing because of a severe blow one officer game me to my solar plexus. They kept asking me which pair of pants belonged to me. I told them, “they are not mine”, which only seemed to infuriate them more. They were screaming and yelling the whole time. I pleaded for a translator.“
“Meanwhile they left me once in awhile to torture Sammy as well in a separate room. When I saw Sammy later, he was unable to walk.”
It continues with more after Sammy implicated Ali.
“When my turn came [to make a statement] the police typed a few basic lines and then began questioning me. I denied any involvement, so the policeman refused to type. This went on for awhile until the police got angry at my repeated denials. The police took me the interrogation room without a translator and resumed torturing me with punches and kicks to my head and body as well as the broomstick behind the knees technique I mentioned earlier.”
“In a semi-conscious state, I kept asking the police why they don’t ask Asfandyar about my whereabouts. So after awhile the police brought Asfandyar into the same room as me. He was also handcuffed behind his back. Unlike me, Asfandyar at the time spoke rudimentary Korean. Asfandyar told the police that I was with him the previous night and therefore it was impossible for me to have been involved in any crime up in Ilsan. The police got upset at Asfandyar and called him a liar. The police then proceeded to torture Asfandyar with a broomstick behind the knees as well as several blows to his body. A crying Asfandyar, who was visibly in pain, told me that the police instructed him to say that I approached him earlier to request a false alibi regarding my whereabouts at the time of the crime. The police also told Asfandyar that he would go to prison if he didn’t agree to this.”
“Anytime I spoke or tried to ask Asfandyar or anyone else a question, the police would hit me. My entire lower body was numb. I was falling in and out of an unconscious state.”
The blog's second post, from September, 2006, sheds light on where Ali says he was the night of the murder.
There are TWO KOREAN-CANADIAN MEN, who go by the names of "Vicky" and "Ricky", that were at The Rio that night with Ali in February 2003. It is unclear whether they were passing through as tourists or were English Teachers, a common occupation of foreigners in Seoul. At The Rio they were videotaping people they'd met, and Ali is on that videotape. This tape places him 45 minutes away from the scene of the crime at the time of the murder.
From the previous paragraph in that post:
He was seen by many friends and was talkative with many tourists and locals. These people were later disregarded by the Seoul PD as necessary to interview. Those that were questioned, Ali's closest friends, were beaten and threatened with imprisonment should they disagree with officer statements or the man who selfishly implicated Ali.
One of the big question marks in this case as I've reviewed what little information available is what's up with Sammy. There is a letter purportedly from him to the Free-Ali website; an excerpt:
Ali was a victim of circumstancial evidenses [sic] cleverly planted by the real culprit who is still at large. None of Ali's witnesses appeared in the court to prove his alibi. My own testimony against him sealed his fate. I want to request to the Korean Government to give him one more fair trial which I'm sure is not too much to ask when an innocent life is at stake.
Indeed he may have been a victim of circumstantial evidence, but let's not forget that it was Sammy who implicated him.
What people close to the case are looking for now are donors and for people interested in looking into this case. Again from the Gwangju News article:
In discussing the deposition with others the most immediate concern was that Khan’s lack of legal representation constituted a human rights abuse, and from this realization came the beginning of a campaign, that simply aims for Khan to receive a fair trial with the proper legal representation.
In addition to trying to get a fair trial, they're also concerned about his mental well-being. From an email from O'Donnell forwarded to me on Facebook:
Things have moved on with Ali and I, together with two [Gwangju International Center] interns, visited him on Tuesday. I'm now gravely worried about him. He is incredibly depressed and, even though we had twenty minutes this time (weekday privileges?!) my only lasting impression is a deep deep depression and an inability to hold his concentration for very long when in conversation with someone.
He veers between talking of God/ suicide/ mental and physical stress, and also the thought of going back to Pakistan, IF he can be released, no longer seems to hold any appeal. He's also very confused by the medical examinations he was given last month, and the absence of the results of them being given to him.
People close to the case are also looking to spread the word to as many people as possible, and have presumably also sent the same message to other bloggers. Again from the Facebook message:
I'll also send it onto Brian Deutsch and a number of other bloggers to see if we find someone charitable enough who's happy to receive all the documents we have that prove how his case was so massively bungled.
I've forwarded this to a couple people I know will give it proper attention, and I'm sure awareness will increase with this post, with the interview with O'Donnell on Michael Simning's GFN program on Friday morning, and with any coverage it gets in the local press, blogs, and messageboards. And while we all know examples of bad Korean policework, uncooperative authorities, and minorities getting screwed, what also needs to be proven I think is if this was in fact "so massively bungled" or just the consequence of notoriously-lazy cops not following-up on a liar.
The Gwangju News article concludes with:
From corresponding and visiting with Ali, what is probably the most positive lesson to be learned (and please feel free to send letters to Ali by all means) is that he does not blame the authorities, he does not blame the police, he does not blame Salamat, and, as a foreigner, he does not blame Koreans or Korean culture. He simply hopes to someday be free. Ali Khan has now been in prison for five years.
And includes his address.
Ali Khan (#3390)
P.O. Box 136
Yuseong-gu, Daejeon City
From the GFN interview Friday morning comes word of a "Justice for Ali Khan Bike Ride" from Gwangju to Daejeon---part of a larger ride across the country---on July 7th through 9th. More information is supposedly available via the Gwangju International Center at gwangjuic[at]gmail.com, and any details I get will be posted here as well.