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September 15, 2020

Motorway incident: Govt must seek public apology, pay compensation to victim, says LHC CJ

Top Story

September 15, 2020

LAHORE: Hearing a petition seeking the formation of a judicial commission to probe the Motorway gang-rape incident, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan Monday remarked that the government should seek a public apology on such a gory occurrence and pay compensation to the victim family.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Khan took strong exception to Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh’s misogynistic remarks about the rape victim and summoned him to explain his position and present a progress report in the case.

Appearing before the court, CCPO Sheikh apologised over his remarks that the victim shared responsibility for her rape. "If my statement offended the victim and public at large, I apologise,” he added.

The judge remarked that Sheikh should have weighed his choice of words. The Punjab government should apologise to the nation over it, he added. “I personally got into panic after listening to your careless statement,” Justice Khan reminded the CCPO.

"What kind of an inquiry is this where the department head is holding the victim responsible for the incident?" remarked Justice Qasim Khan, referring to the CCPO’s comments. "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.

CJ remarked: "It is the government's responsibility to provide protection to people.” Chief Justice Khan observed that the court would exercise restraint in this matter and wait for the outcome of the show-cause issued to the CCPO.

Justice Khan also warned the CCPO against extrajudicial killings in the Motorway gang-rape case and asked him to proceed as per law.

"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.

Asked about the investigation in the case, Sheikh narrated the whole events of the unfortunate incident and the progress made in the investigation so far. He claimed that there had been lapses on the part of Motorway Police and FWO in responding to the calls of the woman.

He said an officer of major rank from the FWO had attended the call of the woman and dispatched a mobile workshop to her location on the highway. He said the officer should have alerted the police on Emergency 15 owing to the compromised security situation on the road.

The CCPO 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 admitted that security arrangements along the Motorway were not exceptional. To a court query, he replied that the Motorway became functional two months ago and no security arrangements had been made so 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 to 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.

The CCPO said that police carried out geofencing and managed to match samples taken from the victim with accused Abid Ali. Chief Justice Khan found flaws in the text of a show-cause notice issued by the inspector general of police to Sheikh over his objectionable statement.

Did the IG Punjab issue a show-cause notice to the city police chief, asked the chief justice? He remarked that the IG said action would be taken against the CCPO, but did not explain under what law that action would be taken.

The government lawyer said the CCPO’s act falls within the ambit of misconduct. The court directed that the culprits be apprehended immediately and directed the Lahore police chief to submit a report in this regard in two days. The court directed the IGP Punjab to submit details of security being provided on all roads across the province and ensure that all officers are on duty and senior police officers patrol areas at least two hours every day.

Justice Khan slammed the government, as well as Punjab's top brass, saying the "advisors and law ministers are going for photo ops whenever they get a chance". "Is the law minister some investigation officer that he goes [to press conferences] so that his pictures are taken," he asked. "Later, they post those pictures on the social media to show they're 'working'."

During the 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 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 CJ adjourned further hearing till Sept 16 and directed the CCPO to submit a report on the investigation in the gang-rape incident. Before rising, the chief justice warned the CCPO against extrajudicial killing of any of the suspects in the gang-rape case and ordered him to ensure maximum punishment for them under the law.