An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore on Monday charged a man with raping and murdering six-year-old Zainab Amin in a case that enraged the country and sparked riots in his home district of Kasur last month.
Imran Ali, 24, pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting and murdering Zainab, said defence lawyer Mehr Shakeel Multani.
“The police have levelled baseless and false allegations against my client,” Multani told AFP.
The hearing was held in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail for security reasons. Witnesses will be called on Tuesday.
Zainab's rape and murder last month had sparked outrage across the country after the six-year-old, who went missing on January 4, was found dead in a trash heap in Kasur on Jan 9. Her case is the 12th such incident to occur within a 10 kilometre radius in the city over the past year.
Police had confirmed on Jan 13 that the results of DNA testing of samples collected from the crime scenes pointed towards the involvement of one culprit in at least seven similar cases in the district. The Punjab government had declared the arrest of Imran, the prime suspect, on January 23.
Read: 'Why is DNA evidence not given weight in Pakistani courts?'
The killing sparked calls for the public execution of Imran after officials said his DNA had been recovered from the scene of the crime and matched samples from similar cases.
According to the victim's father Amin Ansari, Imran — who lived nearby — had taken part in the initial protests that erupted after Zainab's body was discovered.
Last Friday, the ATC had granted police 14-day judicial remand of the suspect after a detailed challan against him was submitted in court by the prosecution. Police had kept the suspect in physical remand for about 16 days. The suspect had first been remanded to police custody for 14 days following his arrest last month. The court had subsequently granted the police an additional three-day remand after he was nominated in seven other similar cases.
The deputy prosecutor general had told the court that during the investigation, Imran had confessed to his involvement in the rape and murder of seven children in Kasur, apart from Zainab.
The ATC had decided that hearings of the trial will be conducted on a daily basis and the case will be completed within seven days.