Protests have broken out in cities across Pakistan after a police chief investigating the gang rape of a woman on a major national highway on Thursday, appeared to blame the victim for travelling late at night without a male companion. So far, Pakistan police have arrested 15 people in connection with the incident, AFP reported.
The woman was attacked during the early hours of Thursday after her car broke down on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway, while she was driving from Lahore to Gujranwala with her two children. In her statement to the police, the woman said she was waiting for help to arrive when a group of men smashed her window, dragged her out of the car and raped her in front of her children in a nearby field, the Guardian reported.
Her assailants then fled the scene, taking her jewellery, cash and three ATM cards with them. While the Pakistan police has detained 15 people for questioning, none out of those arrested were part of the group that attacked her, police told the Associated Press.
Hundreds took to the streets on Friday after Lahore Police Chief Umar Sheikh, the lead investigator of the case, rebuked the woman for driving down the motorway late at night without a man accompanying her.
He added no one in Pakistani society would “allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late”. Since the victim is a resident of France, Sheikh suggested she “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe”, the Guardian reported.
His comments were widely condemned and sparked demands for his immediate resignation. Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari called his remarks “unacceptable”. “Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape,” she said.
“For an officer to effectively blame a woman for being gangraped 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,” Mazari tweeted.
Lawyer and women’s rights activist Khadija Siddiqi told AFP that Sheikh’s response to the case was an unfortunate manifestation of the “very rampant” culture of victim blaming in the country.
Pakistan’s main opposition party PML-N, too, called for Sheikh’s resignation on Friday, local media reported. Meanwhile, opposition Jamaat-i-Islami chief Senator Sirajul Haq gave the government a 48-hour ultimatum to produce the culprits of the crime, PTI reported.
Condemning the brutal attack, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote in a statement on Twitter that he was closely following the case and had directed the investigators to arrest and sentence those involved in the incident “as soon as possible”, Reuters reported.
Khan added that his government would work towards strengthening laws to address the threat posed by a surge in rape cases involving women and children in recent years.
Earlier this year, Pakistani lawmakers had passed a bill, which called for the public hanging of all those convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of children.
After facing widespread criticism for the lack of security on the freshly constructed Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, Punjab Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani deployed highway patrol and special protection personnel to man the highway on Friday, Pakistan newspaper Dawn reported.