Punjab government spokesperson Mussarat Cheema on Thursday said police had arrested 12 men suspected of involvement in the alleged gang-rape of a woman on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway.
Two "robbers" allegedly raped the woman at gunpoint in Gujjarpura area on Wednesday while she was waiting for help on the motorway after her car developed a fault.
A police official said as the woman crossed the toll plaza on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway, her car stalled either due to shortage of petrol or some fault.
Meanwhile, she got a call from a relative in Gujranwala, who asked her to call the police helpline for help while he also left from home to reach her. When he reached the location, he found the woman terrified with her clothes stained with blood.
The police official said two armed men found the woman alone, took her and her children to a nearby field at gunpoint and gang-raped her, adding that police had formed teams to trace the culprits.
Cheema said in a tweet today that Punjab Police and related departments were "working in close coordination to capture those involved in [the] painful motorway incident".
"So far 12 suspects have been arrested and search is going on," she said.
A statement released by the Punjab Police also confirmed the arrests and said that 20 teams of Lahore Police and CIA, headed by the deputy inspector general of police (investigation), had been constituted on the orders of Inspector General Inam Ghani to investigate the case. It said that police were taking all necessary measures, adding that "no stone will be left unturned to provide immediate justice to the victim and her family".
The police teams are "working day and night", the statement said, to identify the accused by gathering DNA evidence, geofencing, examining CCTV footage and Nadra records.
"More than half of the suspects in the case are being investigated and raids are being carried out to nab dozens of former record holders in such incidents," IGP Ghani was quoted as saying.
During a meeting, Ghani said that command officers should consider it as a test case and bring it to a logical conclusion as early as possible, the statement said.
"Irresponsibility would not be tolerated in arresting the social criminals involved in sexual violence and oppression," he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a statement, condemned the sexual assault of the lady in Lahore as well as that of a five-year-old child, who had been murdered and torched after being raped in Karachi, which surfaced on Sunday. He summoned reports of both incidents from the IGs of the provinces.
"The protection of women is the government's foremost priority and responsibility. Such brutality and savagery cannot be allowed in any civilised society. Such incidents are against our social values and an ugly stain on our society," the statement released by PM Office said.
The prime minister also stressed on the need to strengthen laws for the protection of women and children.
Meanwhile, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said that the ministry's regional office "immediately asked for an action report from the police".
The ministry received the report as well as a copy of the first information report (FIR) of the incident, she added.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar vowed that justice would be delivered in the case.
"Justice will be done in the motorway case no matter what and those who tortured the victim will have to suffer strict punishment!" he tweeted.
He said that the responsibility of providing protection and justice to civilians rested with the state.
"Our manifesto is to create a society where, whether it's day or night, women/children would feel safe whether they are alone or with family."
Information Minister Shibli Faraz also condemned the incident and vowed that the "wicked characters who committed this heinous act will not escape the law" and will be punished accordingly.
PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif urged society to "at least stand with the victim and acknowledge the real problem".
He said that the incident should be dealt with "collective and mutli-pronged action" instead of a "knee jerk response".
"We as a society are failing our women & children," he remarked. "For starters, at least stand with the victim and acknowledge the real problem. Yet another horrible incident calls for collective & multi-pronged action... NOT a knee-jerk response!"
In an earlier tweet, the former Punjab chief minister had termed the incident "condemnable, shameful and saddening".
PPP leaders also condemned the incident and party's Senator Sherry Rehman submitted a calling attention notice in the Senate Secretariat to discuss the matter in the upper house.
"This heinous crime merits a response from the concerned minister on the floor of the house," the notice read.
Separately, PPP leader Nafisa Shah termed the incident as "saddening" and said that the crime took place on a major road which "raises a lot of question marks for the government". Shah said that there were reports that motorway police were not deployed on the road despite repeated requests. She demanded that the chief minister and the concerned minister should both accept their "incapability" and resign.
Last night, Chief Minister Buzdar took "strict notice" of the incident and directed the Inspector General of Police to submit a report.
Buzdar gave instructions for arresting those involved in the incident as quickly as possible, adding that "justice would be provided to the woman".
Case will be a 'classic example'
Later in the evening, prime minister's adviser Shahzad Akbar said that police were gathering evidence and the culprits would be arrested soon.
"There is also an asministrative failure which we should admit," he said while talking to reporters alongside Lahore Capital City Police Officer Umer Sheikh. Akbar, who is adviser to the prime minister on interior and accountability, also addressed on air remarks made by Sheikh — where he suggested that women should be careful while leaving their homes — and said that it was being turned into a "meaningless controversy".
Sheikh, while explaining the measures being taken to probe the case, said that the case will be resolved and become a "classic example".
He said that rural and urban policing was being "combined" to investigate the case as the police were deploying all resources including foot tracking, DNA profiling and geofencing etc. The CCPO said that the crime scene's radius was hardly three to five kilometres but the location was near three villages. He assured that the police had gathered some "clues" as well.
When asked about his remarks, Sheikh defended himself by saying that "it was a message to the general public because our society is not [as independent]".
"We didn't deny that this crime took place, we are investigating it and we are finding some positive clues," he said.
Senate body summons Motorways IGP
Senate human rights panel also took notice of the matter and summoned the IGP of motorways police to brief members on the incident. The motorways police chief will also be required to tell the committee why distress calls by the victim were not answered.
According to a notification of the agenda of the meeting, that will be held on September 10, the communications secretary will also be required to brief committee members over the incident.