LAHORE - In August 2015 the country was jolted by a child sex abuse scandal, which was unprecedented in scale and shocking in detail.

The emergence of more than 400 videos of abuse from a Kasur area led credence to claims that at least 280 children had been sexually exploited and their parents blackmailed over several years by a gang of over two-dozen monsters.

These beasts were out of the reach of the law as they allegedly enjoyed strong political support. But authorities were forced to take action after media highlighted the issue.

Cases were registered, investigations done, and trials held. But the suspects kept on escaping the judicial net, one after the other.

Two ‘unfortunate’ and probably less powerful men - Hassem Amir and Faizan Majeed - were somehow declared guilty and sentenced life imprisonment last year.

But the phenomenon of going scot-free by using the loopholes in our judicial system goes on, as an anti-terrorism court on Saturday ordered release of another four suspects linked to this scandal.

ATC Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Ilyas announced the verdict after hearing both sides. Given them ‘benefit of doubt’, the court ordered release of Attiqur Rehman, Tanzeelur Rehman, Haseem Amir and Saleem Akhtar Sherazi.

During the proceeding, the counsel for the freed suspects argued that his clients were wrongly implicated in the case. Police arrested them and booked them under political pressure, the counsel claimed.

Kasur’s Ganda Singhwala Police had initially booked dozens of accused and now we have no option but to believe that only a couple of men had abused around hundreds of children and made the videos. We also have no option but to believe that these men did not have any support and they kept on committing the crime for years on their own.

The gang of criminals had reportedly been abusing children of the area and blackmailing their families since 2009.

In August 2015 the relatives of the victims clashed with police during a protest against authorities failure to prosecute the men who orchestrated the scandal.

Two dozen people were injured when police used force to disperse more than 4,000 protesters on the Dipalpur Road near Dolaywala village.

Calling for justice, the protesters claimed that local police were trying to cover up the scandal and that the criminals had used their influence to avoid being charged.

The then police chief visited Hussain Khan Wala village, which became the focus of the media only after The Nation published a lead story on its front page about the scandal.

A senior provincial police officer was transferred and three top officials of Kasur district police suspended, raising hopes of justice for the victims.

Ex-IGP Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera assured the victim families of speedy investigation, saying it would be completed in just 14 days by a joint investigation team (JIT) constituted for the purpose.

The former IGP also suspended from service Kasur district police chief, DPO Rai Babar Saeed, and his two deputies (DSPs). The Punjab government also removed Additional IGP Arif Mushtaq for presenting a ‘misleading report’ on the scandal to the chief minister.

Dr Arif Mushtaq, who had furnished the first inquiry report, was made OSD (officer on special duty) by the government.

“At least 284 children were abused during the last 10 years,” a boy - who himself worked for the gang – had disclosed to The Nation.

Danish Ali, the 17-year-old youth said he himself had been abused by gang members when he was just five years of age and paid tens of thousands of rupees to them.

“When I told them (abusers) that I have no more money, they told me to join the ring,” said the guy, who can be seen in a clip joyfully performing sex acts and has not been detained yet.

He added he was among the first five children abused and filmed by the gang.

The computer diploma holder said he, along with the arrested accused, prepared, copied and sold pornographic movies.

During the last seven years, he said, his accomplices deleted hundreds of clips from their record after extorting money from the victims or for other reasons.

He expressed fears that police would destroy evidence as “they were protecting the culprits”.

The investigators were hiding evidence, he claimed.

“I myself provided at least 400 videos to the police… and once the SP (Investigation) concerned told us that he had seized as many 390 videos from the culprits,” he said.

Mother of one of the main suspects told reporters in the village that her son, Amir Haseem, brought shame to the family and the village by doing such activities.

Punjab Constabulary Deputy Commandant DIG Abubakar Khudabakhsh was convener of the JIT, which included two members from intelligence agencies and two from the police – SSP Khalid Bashir Cheema and DSP Liaqat Ali.

Ironically, DIG Abubakar served as the regional police officer (RPO) in the same district when the inhuman activities were going on there.

Dozens of villagers had staged a protest demonstration and chanted slogans against the Punjab police and the government as the chief of the country’s largest law enforcement agency reached there to assure justice to the victims.

As the IGP left the site after addressing a news conference, enraged families staged a protest and threw shoes on the police officers.

IGP Mushtaq Sukhera pledged, “We will dispense justice… The JIT will probe into each and every aspect of the scandal.”

Sukhera in his press conference also contradicted the claims of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah that the child abuse scandal was linked to some land dispute.

Saba Sadiq, head of Punjab’s Child Protection Bureau, had described the case as “the largest-ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history”.

The number of victims in this child abuse ring is almost three times higher than in the case of Javed Iqbal in the late 1990s when around 100 children were sexually abused and murdered in Lahore.

Saba said a provincial inquiry announced by the chief minister “would be taken up at federal level to safeguard the children rights in future.” She also promised changing the law to ensure “vigorous punishment for such criminals.”

And, here we are with the outcome of the ‘changed’ laws!

 

 

News Desk