ISLAMABAD: At least 16 suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the child pornography ring at the heart of the Kasur child abuse scandal, have been arrested. But on Monday, the officer responsible for the investigation into the scandal told the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights that the incident should not be treated as “organised crime” because those involved were youngsters, all in their mid-20s.
In addition, the committee also summoned the Sindh chief secretary and the Rangers Sindh director-general to address complaints regarding extrajudicial killings during the Karachi operation.
The child abuse scandal came to light last month, with media reports claiming that around 400 videos of 280 victims were made by the gang in Husain Khanwala, Kasur.
However, briefing the committee, Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer (RPO) Shehzad Sultan disagreed with those figures and said that only 30 video clips were available on police record.
“Initially, only eight cases were reported. But on Aug 13, another 10 victims filed applications, bringing the total number of victims to 18,” he said. He also confirmed that a woman from the area had also filed an application alleging that she had been raped by the suspects in question.
“Of the 16 suspects, 12 have been formally charged and police have obtained their physical remand. We are trying to secure the remand of the four remaining suspects as well,” he said.
“The mastermind — who confessed to the crime — is 25 years old, which suggests that he became involved with this while he was still a teenager; therefore it should not be considered an organised crime. The suspects are all young friends and demanded small payouts, such as mobile phone credit and easyload,” he said.
When asked by Senator Farhatullah Babar why the police remained unaware of such a heinous crime for over six years, the RPO said that since the crime centred around a social taboo, most victims did not tell their parents, and parents who were aware about the abuse did not inform the police for fear of losing face.
“Moreover, the police is usually busy with security arrangements and countering terrorist attacks such as the one in Attock, so such crimes are not a priority,” he said.
PML-N lawmaker Nisar Mohammad, who was chairing the committee meeting in the absence of MQM’s Nasreen Jalil, said that the police should focus on rooting out such crimes to ensure law and order.
“It is responsibility of intelligence agencies to stop terrorism. We have been embarrassed at the national and international level by this incident,” he said, adding that there may well be more victims because the 280 figure had been circulating for quite some time.
The RPO said that a joint investigation team had been formed and that victims were being provided free transport to come and record their statements. At the suggestion of Senator Samina Abid, committee members decided to visit the village in question and instructed the police to keep the members informed about progress in the investigation.
Karachi operation: During discussion on the Karachi operation, members decided to summon the Sindh chief secretary and the Rangers DG to address concerns regarding extrajudicial killings.
After agenda items were completed, Senator Babar said there was a need to evolve a mechanism to monitor the Karachi operation and address the complaints regarding extrajudicial killings.
Balochistan National Party-Mengal Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini was of the view that extrajudicial killings cannot be tolerated because if the state partook in such action, political parties would also follow suit.
“There are complaints of extrajudicial killings from all over the country so the issue should be addressed,” he said.
However, the acting chairman of the committee seemed reluctant to give any direct recommendations.
Senator Babar proposed a draft for the ruling of the committee, but Senator Samina Abid said that the operation had reduced the crime rate and incidents of target-killing had also declined. Then, Senator Babar read out another draft for the ruling, which praised the operation but said that extrajudicial killings should be stopped.
The chairman, however, after consulting with the members, decided to summon the Rangers DG and the Sindh chief secretary to the next committee meeting to discuss the issue.
“Committee Chairperson Nasreen Jalil may also be present during the next meeting so it would be better to take a collective decision,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2015