The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday expressed strong displeasure over the absence of Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh, who recently garnered widespread criticism over his remarks shifting the blame of the motorway gang-rape on the victim.
Last week, two robbers on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway had gang-raped a mother of two in front of her children in an area falling within the Gujjarpura police jurisdiction. The incident caused a countrywide outpouring of anger and brought sexual violence against women into national focus.
The Senate human rights committee had directed the CCPO to appear at its meeting today in person, but Sheikh failed to do so without notifying the body of a reason.
“Has the CCPO descended from the sky?” asked committee chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar. “Top officials are present here but the CCPO did not show up.”
He added that the police officer’s absence was “unacceptable”.
The committee decided to submit a privilege motion against the Lahore CCPO and issued summons to ensure the officer’s presence at its next hearing.
On Monday, CCPO Sheikh had publicly apologised to the motorway gang-rape victim for his earlier remarks implying that she shared responsibility for her rape.
Following the rape, the CCPO had 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.
The CCPO’s comments had triggered a strong reaction from civil society and human rights activists, who condemned the statement and called for his removal from office. He was subsequently issued a show-cause notice over his remarks by the Punjab Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani.
‘No administrative failure’
During the meeting, the chairperson of the National Highway Authority (NHA) briefed the committee on the rape.
Officials of the communications ministry told Senators that the incident “did not take place on the motorway” but on another road managed by the NHA.
Inspector General (IG) National Highways and Motorway Police Dr Syed Kaleem Imam informed the committee that the victim had called the Motorway Police helpline at 02:01am after her car ran out of fuel. The call was received by an operator named Abid, who was told by the woman about her situation.
The operator told the woman that her location did not fall within the Motorway Police’s jurisdiction and after the call informed the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) about her situation in a conference call, according to IG Imam.
“Who was responsible for the incident?” the committee members asked IG Imam, who responded that the road was managed by the federal government and overseen by the NHA.
He said Motorway Police is deployed to a road after its construction is completed and where Motorway Police is absent, the policing responsibility lies with the local police.
Committee members further inquired who was responsible for the victim not receiving timely help.
“The woman talked very normally during the call and did not inform about her children,” IG Imam said, adding that there was “no administrative failure” that resulted in the incident.
While the prime suspect of the gang-rape, Abid Malhi, remains at large, an anti-terrorism court on Tuesday sent another member of his alleged gang, Shafqat Ali, to jail on judicial remand for 14 days. Police also arrested a ‘third suspect’, identified as Iqbal alias Bala, on the information provided by co-suspect Shafqat during interrogation.
A senior police official said although Iqbal was not directly involved in the rape case, being an active member of the gang he might disclose possible hideouts of the key suspect and gang leader, Abid.