Motorway rape occurred because victim travelled ‘late night without husband’s permission’, CCPO tells Senate panel

Earlier this month, a woman was gang-raped on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in front of her children while she was waiting for help after calling the motorway police’s helpline 130 when her car developed a fault. On Monday, Sheikh was summoned by the committee to provide a briefing on the progress of the case that sparked outrage across the country and also exposed the lack of security on a key route.

During the hearing, the CCPO was berated by the panel for expressing his “presumption” that the incident took place because the victim “was travelling late at night without her husband’s permission”. Members of the committee asked him if the victim had said this in her statement at which Sheikh said that it was his assumption. When the committee reprimanded him for giving his “personal opinions” instead of stating facts of the case, Sheikh backtracked and said that “he had been told that the victim had left late at night because she had to talk to her husband on video call”. The committee members said that providing security to citizens was the job of the State, regardless of the time and reason behind travelling.

Sheikh informed the committee that the police had identified the culprits within 72 hours through geofencing, DNA testing, fingerprints and foot tracking technology. He said that one of the suspects, Shafqat Ali alias Bagga, was under arrest while the main suspect Babar Malik was absconding. Committee member Ainee Marri pointed out that the main suspect’s name was Abid Ali, but Sheikh had repeatedly referred to him as Babar Malik. “Is the main suspect [named] Abid or Babar? You are investigating this case and you don’t know the name of the main suspect,” she said.

Sheikh said that if the victim had called 15, police would have arrived in time. He said that a police team arrived at the scene in 28 minutes. The committee said that in a previous meeting, the panel was told that the police had arrived on the scene in six minutes, adding that police statements were “contradictory” and were creating “doubts” about the investigation.

Members of the panel told the CCPO not to “misguide” the committee. “Even the US’ police cannot reach the site in six minutes, how can we?” Sheikh responded. CCPO Sheikh then apologised to the committee and said that a joint session should be summoned so he can apologise to all lawmakers at once. This is not the first time that the CCPO has given controversial statements regarding the case. Earlier, he had invited criticism when he pontificated that the victim had failed to take due precautions before setting off for her journey. According to the Lahore police chief’s logic, the woman could have avoided being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He said she should have taken the more populated GT Road to Gujranwala instead of going via motorway, and that she ought to have checked how much fuel her car had before setting off. Later, in another conversation with journalists, he had said that the victim was travelling with her children at a late hour because she “thought it was France”.

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