LAHORE - An anti-terrorism court Monday charged a man with raping and murdering a young girl in Kasur.

ATC-I Judge Sajjad Ahmad framed the charges against Imran Ali, 24, during the proceedings at Kot Lakhpat Jail. The judge asked the accused about the charges against him but he pleaded not guilty. The hearing was held in the jail for security reasons. Witnesses will be called on Tuesday.

My client pleaded not guilty to the offences against six-year-old Zainab Fatima Ameen in the Punjab city of Kasur last month, said defence lawyer Mehr Shakeel Multani. "The police have levelled baseless and false allegations against my client," Multani told AFP.

Zainab's murder last month sparked outrage across Pakistan, with riots erupting in Kasur as thousands swarmed police stations and set fire to politicians' homes, while hundreds of people took to social media demanding action. The killing sparked calls for the public execution of Ali after officials said his DNA had been recovered from the scene of the crime and matched samples from similar cases.

At least four other cases of rape and murder have been recorded in the Kasur area in the past two years, but it is not yet clear if they are linked. According to the victim's father Ameen Ansari, Ali – who lived nearby – had taken part in the initial protests that erupted after Zainab's body was discovered.

Police had confirmed on Jan 13 that the results of DNA testing of samples collected from the crime scenes pointed towards the involvement of one culprit in at least seven similar cases in the district. The Punjab government had declared the arrest of Imran, the prime suspect, on January 23.

The killing sparked calls for the public execution of Imran after officials said his DNA had been recovered from the scene of the crime and matched samples from similar cases.

According to the victim's father Amin Ansari, Imran — who lived nearby — had taken part in the initial protests that erupted after Zainab's body was discovered.

Last Friday, the ATC had granted police 14-day judicial remand of the suspect after a detailed challan against him was submitted in court by the prosecution. Police had kept the suspect in physical remand for about 16 days. The suspect had first been remanded to police custody for 14 days following his arrest last month. The court had subsequently granted the police an additional three-day remand after he was nominated in seven other similar cases.

The deputy prosecutor general had told the court that during the investigation, Imran had confessed to his involvement in the rape and murder of seven children in Kasur, apart from Zainab. The ATC had decided that hearings of the trial will be conducted on a daily basis and the case will be completed within seven days.