Human rights activist and lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties have condemned what they said were victim-blaming remarks of Lahore’s capital city police officer after a woman was raped on the motorway near Lahore early Wednesday.
Two unidentified men had raped the woman in front of her children on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. The men fled after the rape and stole her cash and jewellery worth Rs100,000.
Speaking to Dunya News, Lahore CCPO Umer Sheikh chose to talk about the woman’s decision to take the motorway with her children, before explaining what his force was doing to apprehend the perpetrators.
“The story is that this woman, if it is in your knowledge, left Defence at 12:30am for Gujranwala,” CCPO Sheikh said.
“First, I am surprised that she, a mother of three children, chose to go without a driver,” he said. “You left Defence, you [should] take the straight GT Road where there is population and go home.”
Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist, was clearly upset with news reports that the country’s top officials had taken notice of the incident.
“A strict notice has been taken. What does it 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?”
Sheikh has been in news for the past two days following the removal of Punjab inspector general who had been in a row with the Lahore CCPO.
Pakistan’s 48.8% population comprises women and children, the human rights activist noted.
“The CCPO said ‘why did the woman leave [her home] at night? Why did she take this road and not the other?’” Abdullah said, adding that the comments reflected a “misogynist” mindset.
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.
Abdullah described the role of motorway police as “suspicious”. Riaz Ahmed, a SAMAA TV reporter in Lahore, confirmed that the women had called the motorway police helpline after the crime and she was told that the Lahore-Sialkot motorway was not under their jurisdiction.
Residents of the area say robberies have become a common occurrence on the motorway but no such incident has ever happened there before, according to the reporter. The police don’t patrol this part of motorway and there are no lights there either.
The rape incident has also enraged the opposition lawmakers, who say the ruling party has failed to keep its promise of reforming the system.
“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”.
“PTI’s promise was that they will come into government with a big reform agenda,” Khokhar noted. “Malik sahab you tell me if they had 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.
“It is the right of a citizen that at whatever time he steps out of his home, the state will protect him,” the PPP senator said.
The Lahore CCPO has tried to defend his remarks by saying “it was a message to the general public so they could take precautions”.
But Khurram Dastagir, a PML-N lawmaker from Gujranwala, finds his explanation unacceptable.
“He should be removed from his post and the one who posted him should answer why did he post him,” Dastagir said. He criticised PM’s advisor Shahzad Akbar for attempting to defend the top Lahore cop.
When they (the PTI) were in the opposition, they used to say if a crime takes place and the criminals are not arrested then the rulers should be held accountable, the PML-N lawmaker reminded the ruling party.
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan agreed with the fellow lawmakers and the human rights activist. The Lahore CCPO should step down, he said.
“I strongly condemn the CCPO’s statement,” he told the anchorperson. “The person should himself leave the post or he should be removed.”
The police officer would have had the criminals killed in an encounter, had such an incident happened with his mother or sister, the minister said.
“This is very, very irresponsible,” Khan said. “This guy should not be there.”