A city police chief faced growing backlash yesterday after he seemed to blame the victim in a gang rape case because she was driving at night without a male companion.
The controversy started after a woman said she was assaulted and raped by at least two men when her car ran out of fuel near the eastern city of Lahore late on Wednesday.
She was with her two children during the attack.
The woman, along with her two children, was driving to Gujranwala in her car when she was forced to stop at the Gujjarpura section of the motorway after running out of fuel, around 1.30am.
She immediately called a relative and sent him her location.
He asked her to also dial the Motorway Police helpline 130, from which she reportedly received no response.
In the meantime, two men approached the car, broke the window, and dragged the woman and her children to nearby bushes, where they attacked her repeatedly.
They also snatched her purse carrying Rs100,000 in cash, one bracelet, car registration papers, and three ATM cards.
Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with the attack.
Disgust around the case increased when Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh told media that the woman should have known better than to travel alone at night.
Speaking to media, Sheikh repeatedly chided the victim for driving at night without a man, adding that no one in Pakistani society would “allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late”.
He went on to say that the woman – who was a resident of France – probably “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe” as her home country.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said that Sheikh’s remarks were unacceptable.
“Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape,” she added.
The attack came just days after the kidnapping, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Karachi.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a statement on Twitter that he was following the case closely and had asked investigators for the “arrest and sentencing of those involved in the incident as soon as possible”.
He added: “Such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilised society.”
Protests were held in cities across Pakistan yesterday, and Sheikh’s comments sparked demands for his resignation.
“We don’t want him in office,” protester Shaheena Khan said at a rally in Islamabad. “We want security from the police and the government. It is their job.”
Lawyer and woman’s rights activist Khadija Siddiqi told AFP that Sheikh’s comments were part of an unfortunate and “very rampant” culture of “victim blaming” in Pakistan.
“We are angry, we demand his removal and we demand his apology,” said Nighat Dad, a women’s rights activist and one of the organisers of an annual women’s rights march in Lahore.
The federal government has conveyed its objections to Sheikh over his remarks.
This was revealed by the adviser to the prime minister on Accountability, Shahzad Akbar.
In a tweet, he said: “CCPO Lahore was conveyed objections of [federal government] on his remarks yesterday.
“It is [the] responsibility of all govt functionaries esp police to ensure safety for all.”
The prime minister’s aide said that the police are “working around the clock” to solve the case: “Police working around the clock to solve this crime however it is my request tht identity of victim must be protected by all be itSM or press and police.”
“We all have to make our society safe and liveable for all,” he tweeted.
Earlier, Akbar admitted the government’s “administrative failure” in the Lahore motorway rape case, vowing that culprits will be apprehended at all costs.
“There is some administrative failure [in the case] that we must admit since it took place on the link road that connects the two motorways,” Akbar told a news conference, flanked by Sheikh.
Akbar defended the Lahore CCPO (Capital City Police Officer)’s statement which had triggered widespread outrage.
“I see an unneeded controversy was created out of the CCPO’s earlier statement,” he said. “I have spoken to him about it, he will tell you himself what he meant by it.”
The prime minister’s aide said that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that roads, motorways, streets and highways were safe for men and women to travel.
“If a case such as this takes place, it is also the government’s job to arrest the culprits and make an example out of them,” he said.
Responding to a question about the person who had filed the complaint of the rape, Akbar said that it was not appropriate to disclose the identity of the victim or the person who had filed the case.
“We all have mothers, daughters and sisters,” he said, urging media to keep the identity of the victim a secret even if they find out about it.
Meanwhile, Sheikh told the media that expert trackers had been brought in to help with the investigations.
He reminded journalists present during the news conference that investigation is a process that requires patience and it takes time to identify the real culprits of a crime.
Sheikh said that the culprits had injured themselves when they had broken the car’s window.
He said that police had collected blood samples and sent them to the laboratory for tests.
He further said that there were only two villages in the forest on the left side of the motorway and one on its right side, hence, the culprits were within 3-5km of the scene of the crime.
Responding to criticism regarding his statement, Sheikh said that he was sorrowful over the incident, hence he had wished that precautions had been taken.
“I have said that this is our responsibility, and we will solve [the case],” he said.
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