As the calls for the removal of Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh over his remarks on the gang-rape of a woman grew, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat on Friday said that the government and chief minister were aware of the demand and that ousting or keeping him on the post was the latter's prerogative.
Basharat was speaking to the media at the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, where the incident took place. The provincial law minister has been appointed as head of a committee constituted by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to probe the case.
According to the details available so far, the woman in early 30s, a resident of Lahore’s Defence Housing Society, was stuck on the motorway with her two children at around 1am after her car ran out of petrol. As she tried to arrange for help, two men approached her and took her and her children (below eight) into the nearby fields at gunpoint.
Once in the field, the attackers raped the woman in front of her children. By the time a police party and a relative the woman had called reached the scene, the attackers had fled, taking with them the cash and valuables the victim was carrying with her.
CCPO Sheikh on Thursday 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.
As the news of the atrocity spread, there was an outpouring of support for the victims — the woman who was violated and the children — and a public condemnation of the CCPO's remarks.
Today, while responding to a question regarding Sheikh's remarks and whether the government would remove him, Basharat said: "Government is aware of this demand [for Sheikh's removal], the chief minister is aware. This is the prerogative of the chief minister."
He added that as head of the committee, he was visiting the site of the crime in order to check up on the status of the investigation.
"I said this last night as well that I don't agree with his (CCPO) statement and that it was inappropriate.
"Now, moving forward, I want to repeat that right now our total focus is to catch the culprits. If, at this time, we get tangled in administrative matters — which are our internal matters — then we will not be able to achieve our target."
'Mindset that shames a rape victim'
Earlier on Friday, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, while addressing the media, demanded Sheikh's removal and said that his remarks represent a "mindset that shames a rape victim".
"Lahore CCPO's statement is encouraging the culprits, supporting them, it is affecting the investigation and is saying that the fault lies with that mother who was gang-raped," she said. "On top of that, it is the height of injustice that the entire state, government, prime minister and Punjab chief minister are silent."
"CCPO gave a statement that his remarks were misunderstood [...] He said that the woman left her house with her children thinking Pakistan was France. Because in France, there is writ of state, there are moral values, citizens are provided protection, there is rule of law — this is what Lahore CCPO said.
"What does this mean? It means that in Pakistan, 110 million women do not have any protection but women in France are safe [...] It means that right now in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there is no writ of law, there is no law and order and there are no moral and social values."
Aurangzeb said that the CCPO's statement meant that women in Pakistan should protect themselves "because there is no rule of law" in the country.
"[His statement] meant that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan women should not leave their homes after 6pm — and if they do and are raped, it would be their fault," Aurangzeb said.
The PML-N spokesperson further stated that Sheikh's remarks contradicted Article 9 of the Constitution, which dictates that no person shall be deprived of life or liberty in accordance with law.
Referring to his remarks in a talk show, Aurangzeb added: "He said in a talk show that his mother used to take him with her when he was six years old for her protection. Mr CCPO, this mother also had three kids with her and you were supposed to protect her. It was the responsibility of the police to protect her."
Aurangzeb said that the government had retained Sheikh at the expense of former provincial police chief Shoaib Dastagir, who was replaced with Inam Ghani earlier this week.
Aurangzeb is not the only opposition lawmaker to demand Sheikh's removal. Yesterday, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman had expressed shock and outrage over the remarks, saying that she was "furious to hear some police officials have had the nerve to ask why the lady was out at that hour".
"They need to be dismissed," she tweeted, without naming Sheikh.
Lawyer Khadija Siddiqui, who was stabbed 23 times in broad daylight in Lahore by a fellow student in 2016, and her colleagues Barrister Hassan Niazi and Advocate Murad Ali Khan Marwat submitted a complaint to IGP Ghani, saying that the CCPO "must be forced to apologise" and "suspended".
They also wrote a letter addressed to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and IGP Ghani, saying that the CCPO's remarks were "prejudicial to the investigation in the case" and he "has also aptly proven himself to be unfit to hold this position".
The letter demanded that Sheikh be removed from his post until a departmental inquiry against him was completed.
Yesterday, Party’s parliamentary leader in Punjab Assembly Hassan Murtaza also demanded Sheikh's removal while Twitterati also called for his dismissal.
Shehbaz lashes out at govt
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif lashed out at the government ministers and Punjab chief minister, who he said "rushed to support and implicitly justify the conduct of a police official".
"How can they govern when they do not have the ability to identify a problem?"
Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who denounced the CCPO's comments yesterday, defended PTI minister, saying: "Asad Umar defended my statement [...] Shahzad Akbar categorically conveyed the entire federal cabinet's strong displeasure at CCPO's statement. No one in PTI defended indefensible statement of CCPO. IG has taken note and action also against CCPO."
She said women shouldn't take out anger by wrongly accusing ministers who have publicly criticised CCPO's statement. "There can never be a defence of CCPO's attempts to rationalise rape — never."
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, in a statement, condemned and expressed grief over the incident, saying that "entire humanity is ashamed". The former premier called for quick arrests of the culprits, who, he said, should receive the "strictest punishment".
"Pakistan's integrity demands that the culprits are arrested soon and are handed the strictest punishment," the statement quoted him as saying.
"Until justice is done, the entire government system will remain guilty before the innocent children and their mother."
As the investigation into the incident started, there were reports that the victim had called on the helpline of Motorway Police, but she was denied assistance because the area in question was not covered by the Pakistan National Highway and Motorway Police.
A spokesperson for the PNH&MP confirmed this while talking to Dawn. He said the 90-kilometre-long Lahore-Sialkot Motorway had yet to be handed over to them officially.
He said the motorway, built and operated by the FWO, was inaugurated some six months back.
In the first progress report submitted by the Lahore police to Chief Minister Buzdar, it was claimed that some 15 suspects were taken into custody during a search operation launched in the vicinities of the crime site.
Buzdar also constituted a six-member committee, with the provincial law minister as the convener, to investigate the case.
IGP Ghani told Dawn a lot of work was being done on the brutal rape case. “Our 20 teams are working on this case. Lahore DIG (Investigations) Shahzada Sultan is leading one of them. A crime investigation agency is separately working. Another one is being led by divisional SP,” he said.
He said the data from geo-fencing at three points, including where the car stopped, where the woman was raped, and the area pointed out by a local tracker hired by police to trace the footprints of the culprits, had been recorded.
“We have also obtained data of men of between 25 and 35 years living in the nearby villages from Nadra besides conducting profiling of 70 young suspects,” Ghani said.
The police had also confirmed on the basis of medical reports that the victim was raped by more than one man. He also hinted that police had managed to get some clues from the crime scene that could lead them to the culprits.
In response to a question, the IGP said that people had a right to choose any route they wanted to.
“I have asked the regional police officer for Gujranwala to reach the residence of the victim lady to update her about the work the police have done so far,” Ghani said.
Additional input by Imran Gabol and Adnan Sheikh.