A Lahore anti-terrorism court on Tuesday sent the prime suspect in the motorway gang-rape case, Abid Malhi, to jail on a 14-day judicial remand.
The accused was brought to court under tight security, with a black hood covering his face that was removed during the proceedings. During the hearing, Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta approved a request by the prosecution to hold an identity parade of the suspect and directed that the process be completed as soon as possible.
The court also handed over the other suspect in the case, Shafqat, to police on physical remand till October 28.
A day earlier, Lahore's Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) had arrested Malhi from Manga Mandi, approximately 33 kilometres from the provincial capital. The arrest came after police released Malhi’s parents, brothers and wife, allowing them to use their old mobile phone SIMs in order to trap him.
The rape — which had occurred last month — had sparked countrywide outrage after a mother of two was gang-raped off the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in front of her children after her car ran out of fuel on the way to Gujranwala late at night.
Speaking to Dawn, Punjab Operations Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sohail Sukhera said the police’s strategy of releasing Malhi's family members proved successful when the suspect contacted his mother on the phone.
He said the police’s special teams that were on high alert, traced the call to Faisalabad, where the suspect was hiding.
The DIG said during the conversation, Malhi’s mother told him that she and other family members had been released by police. At this, Malhi expressed his desire to meet her at Manga Mandi, Sukhera said, adding the suspect reached his mother's house as per their plan.
Sukhera said as soon as Malhi entered the house, police teams, which had already been deployed, raided the premises and arrested the suspect without facing any resistance.
Pemra order suspended
Separately, the Lahore High Court suspended an order by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), which barred all television channels from airing news of the case.
The directions were issued by Pemra earlier this month in the light of an order passed by the trial court on the request of the police.
In today's hearing of a petition challenging Pemra's order, LHC Chief Justice Qasim Khan said that media coverage cannot be restricted as the Constitution gives citizens the right to information.
He also summoned a record of the speeches and press conferences held by ministers and government officials, saying "why were speeches by ministers and advisers aired when Pemra had imposed restrictions?"
He added that media should not run pictures of the suspect or members of affected families while covering the gang-rape case.
Hunt for suspects
The incident had caused a countrywide outpouring of anger and brought sexual violence against women into national focus. Abid and Shafqat Ali alias Bagga are the main suspects in the case.
Abid, who was leading a gang of four, is also wanted to police in at least 10 other criminal cases registered at various police stations of Punjab.
Shafqat was arrested after the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Police raided a house in Okara district. He confessed to the crime before his DNA matched the samples collected from the crime scene.
A senior officer had told Dawn that the CTD carried out an intelligence-based operation (IBO) and arrested Shafqat from his sister’s house in Depalpur. He further said that Abid had called Shafqat many times before and after committing the rape.
During interrogation, Shafqat told detectives that Abid had first raped the woman and then asked him to commit the offence while threatening him that he would shoot him (Shafqat) for not committing the crime or showing sympathy for the victim.
As they had just raped the woman, they noticed the personnel of the Dolphin Squad reaching the spot, the official said. As soon as a Dolphin official fired a warning shot into the air, both the suspects fled the scene and hid in a nearby jungle of Karol Ghati for two hours or so to avoid arrest. Then they left the place and reached Sheikhupura at the home of Abid Ali at Ghazi Kot, Qila Sattar Shah, in tehsil Ferozewala of Sheikhupura district. Abid had purchased this two-marla house some three years back.
Both Abid and Shafqat turned their mobile phones off. Shafqat left Abid’s house and reached Depalpur where he was employed at a cold storage. As more news of the crime appeared in the media, he preferred to stay away from his workplace and hid himself in the house of his sister who was probably unaware of his involvement in the crime, the officer informed Dawn. Abid also fled his house and went underground to avoid arrest when he came to know about the massive media coverage.
The third suspect, identified as Iqbal alias Bala, was “arrested” on the information provided by Shafqat during interrogation, an official had told Dawn. The official said he was not directly involved in the rape case, but being an active member of the gang he might disclose possible hideouts of Abid.
A fourth suspect, Waqarul Hasan, had surrendered to police while claiming his innocence and requested the authorities to conduct his DNA test to corroborate his claim.
The Lahore police reportedly released relatives and friends of two other suspects — Waqarul Hassan and his brother in-law Abbas — who were detained in connection with the case.