The Lahore High Court (LHC) said on Monday that the Punjab government should apologise to the nation for the misogynistic remarks made by Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh about the victim of the motorway gang-rape incident.
Hearing a petition calling for the formation of a judicial inquiry commission to investigate the incident, LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan remarked that an impression has been created that the women of the country were not safe on the roads.
The court directed that the culprits be apprehended immediately and directed the Lahore police chief to submit a report in this regard day after tomorrow. The hearing was adjourned for September 16.
Earlier today, the court had summoned Sheikh to present a report regarding headway made in the motorway gang-rape case. Shortly before appearing in court, the Lahore police chief apologised to the motorway gang-rape victim for his earlier remarks implying that she shared responsibility for her rape.
"I did not mean anything wrong or [to give a wrong] perception and if any misunderstanding was caused because of me, then I apologise from the depths of my heart to my sister who was abused and to all sections of society who were saddened or angered," he said while speaking to journalists.
During today's hearing, the Punjab government's lawyer presented the notification under which an inquiry committee, headed by the provincial law minister, was constituted to probe the case.
"We can't play committee-committee," the chief justice remarked, asking the lawyer who exactly was a part of the inquiry panel. "The provincial law minister, the additional chief secretary home and other officials are part of the committee," the government's lawyer replied.
The LHC CJ also inquired about the show-cause notice issued to the CCPO. "The officer was issued a show-cause notice by the Punjab IG for the controversial remarks he made about the victim in the motorway gang-rape case," the government's lawyer replied, adding that provincial police officer had also sought a reply within seven days.
"If [Sheikh] does not give a satisfactory and detailed reply, a reference will be filed against him," he added. Responding to this, the judge remarked that the notice doesn't mention the rules under which action can be taken against the CCPO.
Appearing before the court, CCPO Sheikh said that police arrived at the scene "within 20 minutes". However, Justice Qasim Khan noted that after contacting the motorway helpline, the victim was told to contact the highway authorities. "The highway authorities then told her to contact the police," he said.
The CCPO replied that, unfortunately, security arrangements along the motorway were not up to par. When asked when the motorway was opened, Sheikh replied that the motorway became functional two months ago and no security arrangements had been made thus far.
"If there is no security along the highway, then this incident was bound to happen," the judge remarked.
The CCPO replied that his authority extends up until Ring Road. However, he admitted that there could have been "better coordination" between the departments. He added that once the police were involved, he launched a "scientific investigation" into the matter.
"What did Dolphin Force officials see [at the scene]?" asked the judge. "When the Dolphin Force arrived, they opened fire into the air, upon which the victim cried out for help. Officials then found the victim and her children in a ditch and informed the high command," the CCPO replied.
He added that officials took the victim to a hospital but she insisted on leaving shortly after. The Lahore police chief stated that an investigation was currently under way.
Commenting on his earlier misogynistic remarks implying that the victim shared responsibility for her rape, Sheikh apologised once again. "If my statement offended the victim, then I apologise."
Stating that the Punjab government should apologise to the entire nation for the comments the official made, the judge remarked that Sheikh should have weighed his choice of words. "It is the government's responsibility to provide protection to the people.
"A young girl left for the motorway thinking she was safe. You have no idea the kind of agony the victim and her children will endure for the rest of their lives," Justice Qasim Khan remarked.
Informing the court about the status of the investigation, the CCPO said that police carried out geo-fencing and managed to match samples taken from the victim with accused Abid Ali.
He added that the second accused had surrendered to police and had recorded his statement. "We are trying to trace one more accused. All those responsible will be caught."
Earlier during the hearing, the court was informed by the government-appointed law officer that the motorway case was currently being investigated by police.
"What kind of an inquiry is this where the departmental head is holding the victim responsible for the incident?" remarked Justice Qasim Khan, referring to the CCPO's comments.
"The entire Punjab cabinet should have apologised for the Lahore police chief's remarks," he added.
"If an investigation is being carried out with such a mindset then who knows what is reality and what is made up," Justice Qasim Khan said.
The writ petition, filed by Advocate Nadeem Sarwar, stated that the motorway incident was not the first of its kind where police had shown "criminal negligence" and a "lack of professionalism".
The petition also criticised the Lahore CCPO for his misogynistic comments blaming the victim for leaving her home late at night, adding that his statement was "encouraging the culprits" and therefore called for the formation of a judicial inquiry commission supervised by the court to probe the case and for action to be taken against Sheikh.
It also asked for the records and police progress in rape cases reported over the last five years to be made public and produced before the court.
Motorway rape case
Last week, two ‘robbers’ allegedly gang-raped a woman at gunpoint in front of her children in Lahore's Gujjarpura area after she was stranded on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway.
According to the details available so far, the victim, a woman in her early 30s and 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 fuel.
As she tried to arrange for help, two men approached her and took her and her children (under 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 of the woman had called arrived at the scene, the attackers had fled, taking with them the cash and valuables the victim was carrying with her.
As the investigation into the incident started, there were reports that the victim had called 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.
Following the incident, the CCPO 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.