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Pakistan: Two men sentenced to death who gang-raped a mother in front of her kids in highway

Sunday, 21 March 2021 (12:33 IST)
A Pakistani court has sentenced two men to death for the rape of a mother in front of her young children.

The court in the southern city of Lahore gave Abid Malhi and Shafqat Ali death sentences and also lifelong jail terms, along with fines of 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($320, €268), local media reported. The sentence is seen as a key landmark in the country where many rapes remain unpunished.

What happened during the attack?

Malhi and Ali robbed and gang-raped the woman who ran out of fuel on a highway in the middle of the night in the eastern province of Punjab, the court heard during a 6-month trial. The men stole money, jewelry, and bank cards before fleeing.

The victim’s young children were present during the crime, which took place at gunpoint last September.

Pakistani authorities managed to track down the pair using mobile phone data, prosecutor Hafiz Asghar added. Both of the defendants were arrested days after the incident.

DNA samples taken from the crime scene matched those taken from Malhi and Ali. The survivor later identified the two men during the hearing, and Ali confessed to the crime before a magistrate.

Malhi had previously charged in connection with a gang-rape case in 2013 but he managed to get released on bail.

What was the reaction?

The case drew widespread outrage with thousands taking part in protests across the country, demanding better protection of women.

The government subsequently introduced new legislation, including the establishment of special courts to speed up rape trials and the chemical castration of serial rapists.

Public anger was further fuelled by a police chief who chided the victim for driving at night without a male companion.

Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh repeatedly berated the victim, adding that no one in Pakistani society would “allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late.”

Sheikh went on to say the woman - a resident of France - probably “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe” as the European country.

Domestic violence, sex crimes and honor killings

A survey for Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the 6th most dangerous country for women.

Much of the country lives under a patriarchal code of “honor” that systematizes the oppression of women and those who supposedly bring “shame” on the family can be subjected to violence or murder.

Victims of sexual abuse often are too afraid to speak out and criminal complaints are frequently not investigated seriously.

The country has an abysmal rape conviction rate, with official data putting it as low as 0.3%.

According to the rights groups Justice Project Pakistan, the number of prisoner executions has fallen in the past few years to 15 in both 2018 and 2019.

Many death sentences are later commuted to life imprisonment terms.

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