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Hushing up of rape case shows misuse of police power

April 01, 2013

After a 21-year-old woman from Lahore was raped in Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel last September, the treatment of her case – marked by official pressure, procedural complications and legal irregularities – has highlighted the widespread problem of corruption and misuse of power in the police force.

While low-ranking officers have frequently been chastised by their superiors for such practices, the Lahore rape case suggests that they can be found in the higher echelons of the force as well.

According to the victim’s statement and evidence available with the police, another woman brought her from Lahore to Islamabad on September 10, 2012. At the Marriott, she claimed, two men raped her. Once the case was registered, under Section 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which addresses crimes of rape, the Secretariat police arrested the two accused. The two men accused of the crime happened to be influential figures: one, a businessman, was the owner of a ghee mill; the other was an assistant director at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Officials from the FIA and the Punjab police immediately began applying pressure on the Secretariat police to release them. It was not until the victim signed a statement affirming that though the crime had happened, she was “pardoning” the accused, that the two men managed to get released on bail.

Soon after, presumably influenced by higher officials, the Secretariat police managed to make the case disappear entirely, by quashing the First Information Report (FIR).

A lawyer, Tariq Jhangri, claims that “Neither the police nor the courts had the power to quash the FIR in this case.”

Legally, an FIR can be expunged only if investigations suggest that the crime reported had not, in fact, happened, and the victim’s statement of pardon made it clear that she had been raped.

More seriously, rape, as registered under PPC 376, is considered a “non-compoundable crime”, a category that includes those illegal activities treated as crimes against the state. In crimes of this sort, the accused can be acquitted once the victim has officially issued a pardon but such acquittal is the prerogative only of the court.

“If a victim later pardons the persons he or she has accused of a crime, even a non-compoundable crime,” Tariq Jhangri said, “the court can, legally, give them bail and an acquittal – or a sentence, despite a pardon from the victim. It’s at the court’s discretion.” However, he emphasised, “In a non-compoundable offence, it doesn’t matter if the victim pardons his or her accused. Neither the police nor the court have the power to quash the FIR.”

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Islamabad Yasin Farooq denied that the FIR had been expunged. However, he insisted to Dawn that the cancellation of the case was both legal and appropriate.

According to the SSP, the investigation of the complaint suggested that “the incident did not happen,” and that the victim “must have had some ulterior motive” for her allegations.

Farooq added that the victim’s medical reports did not suggest rape, “and mobile phone records said she was busy the whole night sending and receiving SMS.”

Marriott staff also gave the police statements contradicting the woman’s allegations, he claimed.

Sources in the police department, however, allege that the Secretariat police investigation of the young woman’s rape was heavily influenced by higher officials, who sought from the beginning to discredit the victim and make the case disappear.

While the SSP claims that the case diary itself made the argument for “canceling” the accusations, sources suggest that the validity of that diary may be in question.

They report that, according to the diary written by the investigating officer initially assigned to the crime, a medical examination confirmed that the victim had been raped. However, her High Vaginal Swab (HVS), an important piece of evidence, was deliberately sent “empty” and therefore could not be properly examined.

The first IO noted in the case diary that given medical confirmation, “it was impossible for the HVS to be empty.” He conjectured that either hospital staff or the police themselves were behind the mistreatment of the evidence.

In November, however, a new investigating officer, Sub-Inspector Mansoor, of the Bhara Kahu police station, was “verbally appointed” to the case.

Because the senior superintendent of police is the only official with the authority to change the IOs assigned to particular cases, sources suggest that Mansoor was chosen “in order to influence the investigation in favour of the accused.”

The first IO, they claim, had been asked to change the details recorded in his diary; when he refused to do so, senior officials “managed to get the diary removed from the case files,” and then replaced him with a more amenable IO.

SSP Yasin Farooq claims that because SI Mansoor was “busy”, his case diary was written after the fact, and back-dated. Mansoor himself told Dawn that “because of the victim’s statement and a negative DNA test,” he wrote his diary “to cancel the case”.

The two men accused of the rape have been pardoned, by the plaintiff herself, and acquitted of the crime.

“Whatever senior officials did with this case,” SSP Farooq notes, “it’s a good thing they registered it under the Pakistan Penal Code, rather than the Hudood Ordinance.”

If the crime had been registered under the latter ordinance, “the victim would now have to face a charge of adultery.”