Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh once again found himself in trouble when talking to the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights to talk about the motorway gang-rape case on Monday.
There seemed to be discordant information about the authorities’ response time to the victim’s distress call when her car broke down on the M11 Motorway. The CCPO said that it took approximately 28 minutes to reach the area, while the officers who actually responded to the distress call said that they reached the area in under six minutes.
The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the case regarding the horrible gang-rape and mugging of a mother travelling with her children at night on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. The incident led to country-wide protests and calls for reforms in laws pertaining to sexual assault, specifically with a call for public hangings of the perpetrators.
CCPO Sheikh said during the hearing that the woman was travelling without her husband’s permission, but soon thereafter admitted this was just a “guess”. He was reprimanded by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Krishna Kumari Kohli, a member of the Senate committee, who also told him not to make any such assumptions in the future.
When the committee reprimanded him for giving his “personal opinions” instead of stating facts of the case, Sheikh backtracked and said that “he had been told that the victim had left late at night because she had to talk to her husband on video call”.
The CCPO found himself in even hotter water when he forgot the name of the prime suspect in the case. Abid Ali has been on the run for the past 20 days and the eight special teams — comprising personnel from all of the Punjab Police’s departments — have failed to apprehend despite spotting him at least thrice across the province.
Sheikh said, “If [police helpline] 15 had received the call, we could have reached that place in 25 minutes. The first call to 15 was at 2:47 am made by a passerby and the 15 officials reached at 3:15 am” while addressing the committee.
In reply, Marri said either the CCPO lacked the correct information or the committee had been misled.
“The call came at 2:47 am and the first [Dolphin Force] officer arrived at 2:53 am. I’m telling you the 100% truth,” the CCPO responded.
“Then your cops are lying,” Marri shot back at him.
“My job is to stop the crime and catch the culprits,” Sheikh replied. “Neither is there a CCTV [camera] at the toll plaza nor is an actual toll tax receipt given.”
“Five technologies were used in the motorway rape case; geo-fencing, DNA filing, and fingerprint technology. Even the American police do not respond [to a crime] in six minutes,” he added.
The committee members expressed anger over the contradiction in the police officer’s statement.
“You say the police arrived at the scene in 28 minutes but the police said they had reached in six minutes,” the committee said. “The police tried to misguide the committee”.
The CCPO’s repetitive apologies seemed to further irritate the committee.
“The CCPO only apologised out of fear of the court,” PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar said.
Sheikh told the committee that Abid’s data had successfully been found from the Punjab Forensic Science Agency’s (PFSA) 2013 records. “The first case of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan was solved with [the use of] DNA,” he said.
To which, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the chairperson of the Senate committee, asked why Abid had been released. At this, Lahore’s top cop simply sought forgiveness once more.
“Babar Malhi’s blood and DNA have also matched,” he said.
At which, the committee members paused, in shock, and asked: “Babar Malhi or Abid Malhi? Is the main suspect [named] Abid or Babar? You are investigating this case and you don’t know the name of the main suspect.”
At this point, the shaken officer cited his age as an excuse for his poor memory and continued to seek forgiveness from the committee, repeatedly apologising to all members of the hearing. He even went as far as to say a joint session should be summoned so he can apologise to all lawmakers at once.
He also talked about his desire to bring “court-martial law” into the Punjab police forced, touted himself as someone “who wishes to bring reforms”, and blamed leaks on his 500 people strong police force.
He further tried to shift part of the blame in the insufficient response to the call to the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO).
“In this case, too, an FWO officer was taken on the woman’s conference call. He told her he would send a car,” he said. “That car was on the M2 [motorway] and it took a long time to reach the site.”
“The crux of the matter is that this alert should have been to 15,” he added.
Speaking to The Current, Khokhar separately said that he was shocked over the CCPO’s statements. “His mix-ups have created confusion over the police response time.”