Lahore CCPO Umar Sheikh’s victim-blaming statement after a woman was raped on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway Wednesday night has garnered mixed responses from Pakistanis. A number of ministers and politicians have called out the police chief for his insensitive remarks but others have been called out for their statements.
A woman was raped in front of her children by two unidentified men on the motorway late Wednesday.
She was driving to Gujranwala with her children when she ran out of fuel near Lahore’s Gujjarpura. The woman was sitting in her vehicle when two men walked towards her car, broke her window, and made her park on the roadside. They then took her and the children to a nearby forest and raped her.
The men fled after the rape and stole her cash and jewellery worth Rs100,000.
Sheikh appeared on Dunya News after the rape was reported and decided it was better to talk about the survivor’s decision to take the motorway with her children at night before explaining what his force was doing to apprehend the rapists.
“The story is that this woman, if it is in your knowledge, left Defence at 12:30am for Gujranwala,” he said. “First, I am surprised that she, a mother of three children, chose to go without a driver. You left Defence, you [should] take the straight GT Road where there is population and go home.”
The recently appointed chief of the Lahore police then said the woman should have checked how much petrol was in her car before taking the longer route because there are no petrol pumps on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway.
He later defended his statement by saying they were a “message” for people.
“It was a message to the general public that we should take precautions,” Sheikh said while talking to reporters with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Adviser Shahzad Akbar. “The crime was committed and we admit it. We didn’t deny it happened.”
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari criticised Sheikh for his victim blaming and said nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape.
For an officer to effectively blame a woman for being gang raped by saying she should have taken the GT Road or question as to why she went out in the night with her children is unacceptable & have taken up this issue. Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape. That’s it.
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) September 10, 2020
However, people criticised her for “just tweeting” about the issue and not taking any action. She has received similar criticism in the past.
Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi also condemned both the rape and CCPO’s statements on Twitter.
Strongly condemn the reprehensible gang rape that occurred on the motorway. On top the insensitive remarks by CCPO Lahore were idiotic & deplorable. Public servants have to be extra careful. They must show empathy as they have been chosen to serve, not to rule.
— Ali Haider Zaidi (@AliHZaidiPTI) September 11, 2020
He called the CCPO’s remarks “insensitive”, as well as “idiotic and deplorable”.
Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar’s comments on the situation have also been criticised.
وفاقی وزیرمنصوبہ بندی اسد عمر کہتے ہیں کہ سی سی پی او لاہور نے زیادتی کا شکار بننے والی مظلوم خاتون کے بارے میں جو کہا وہ غیر ضروری تھا میں ان سے اتفاق نہیں کرتا لیکن انہوں نے جو کہاغیر قانونی نہیں تھا لاہور پولیس کے سربراہ کے خلاف کس بات پر انکوائری کی جائے ؟@Asad_Umar pic.twitter.com/UcbEvfZ8pU
— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirPAK) September 10, 2020
In an interview with Hamid Mir for Geo TV, he said while Sheikh’s statements were “unnecessary”, they weren’t against the law so legal action cannot be initiated.
He said the people of Pakistan have the right to travel wherever they please, whenever they please and that the State is supposed to provide protection at all times. “But how can we take action against him [CCPO Sheikh]. Can we say “you didn’t make a good statement” and take action?” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, on the other hand, didn’t say anything about the CCPO at all.
موٹروے پر خاتون زیادتی کیس سے متعلق سی سی پی او لاہور عمر شیخ کا بیان متنازعہ حیثیت اختیار کر گیا، وزیر اعلی پنجاب عثمان بزدار کیا کہتے ہیں، سنیے#DunyaNews #CMBuzdarOnDunyaNews #motorwayincident pic.twitter.com/n8QaQ43p0K
— Dunya News (@DunyaNews) September 10, 2020
In an interview with Kamran Khan for Dunya News, CM Buzdar kept repeating that an “impartial investigation” would be conducted into the matter. Khan repeatedly pressed the CM to comment on the CCPO’s statement and how it was a poor reflection of his government, but Buzdar ignored it and kept repeating that an investigation would be conducted.
Human rights activist and lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties have condemned the victim-blaming remarks.
Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist, was clearly upset with news reports that the country’s top officials had taken notice of the incident.
“Strict notice has been taken. What does that mean?” she asked, while speaking on SAMAA TV’s show Nadeem Malik Live. “Who appointed this CCPO? Is it the same man who has been controversial for the last two, three days?”
The human rights activist said “impunity” from punishment encourages people to commit such crimes. “Why would anyone care for laws when one believes he won’t be caught or held responsible,” she questioned.
“I agree with every word Tahira Abdullah said,” PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told Nadeem Malik. “We have to reform our criminal legal system. Our criminal legal system is not delivering.”
The senator, who is also the chairman of Senate’s human rights committee, said the culprits often go scot-free because of “faulty prosecution” and “wrong investigation”.
Senate HR committee has taken notice of the rape incident in Lahore. Concerned authorities have been called to appear on the 16th (IG Motorway’s and Sec comm). Saw CCPO’s outrageous comments after agenda was issued. He’d b asked to appear too and explain his insensitive remarks! pic.twitter.com/pbJLhAwYto
— Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar (@Mustafa_PPP) September 10, 2020
“PTI’s promise was that they will come into government with a big reform agenda,” Khokhar noted. “Malik sahab you tell me if they brought any reform in the criminal legal system over the past two years.”
The opposition lawmaker said the Senate’s human rights committee would summon the Lahore CCPO to explain his position.
On Friday, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice met and took notice of the case. They have summoned the communication secretary and motorway inspector-general.
They have demanded Sheikh appear before the committee’s during its upcoming session.
PPP MNA Nafisa Shah has demanded that Sheikh be removed from his post following the comments. Committee member Kishwar Zehra had a similar demand and called the officer’s remarks “shameful”.
On the other hand, committee chairperson Riaz Fatyana said the country has become a “police state”.
The police have arrested at least 12 suspects in connection with the rape. Sheikh told reporters that the police have conducted geo-fencing in the area and collected blood samples from the crime scene for DNA profiling.
The Lahore police chief added that there are only three villages around the crime scene and the police have obtained CCTV footage from cameras in the vicinity.
At least 20 teams have been formed to investigate the case. This includes teams of the Special Branch, CIA and Investigation Police.
Rape is a punishable offence in Pakistan. The definition and punishment for this crime is detailed under Sections 375 and 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
According to the law, a man is said to commit rape when he has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the five following descriptions:
The convicted rapists will be sentenced to jail for no less than 10 years or more than 25 years, according to the law. A fine will also be imposed on them.