Riots erupted in Kasur as residents agitated against perceived police inaction over the rape and murder of a 7-year-old resident of the city.
The post-mortem report of the child confirmed suspicions that she was raped before being murdered, police officials told media.
The brutal murder of the girl, the 12th such case to occur within a two-kilometre radius of the city over the last year, ignited a wellspring of anger among the city’s residents.
Two people were killed by gunshot wounds as enraged protesters armed with sticks and stones attempted to storm the deputy commissioner’s office and clashed with police. At least two others sustained bullet injuries.
Television footage showed a policeman firing into the advancing mob before being told to fire into the air. It is not clear yet whether the policeman was responsible for the deaths or injuries.
Punjab government in the evening said six personnel, including four policemen and two civil defence personnel, who allegedly opened fire at the protesters have been arrested.
The minor girl was laid to rest in a graveyard in Kasur after her parents arrived from Saudi Arabia in the evening.
What we know so far:
- Missing person FIR registered on Jan 5, a day after the girl went missing
- CCTV footage of girl being led by a suspect was circulated on social media after she went missing
- Police later found girl’s body dumped in a trash heap on Tuesday
- Police confirmed after initial investigation that the girl was strangled
- Citizens have been protesting in Kasur amidst a complete shutdown of the city
- Social media outrage has grown across the country over the police’s perceived inaction
- The LHC CJ, Punjab CM, Senate, chief justice of Pakistan and the army chief have taken notice of the case
- Riots continue in Kasur, as groups of protesters demand justice for Zainab and for two protesters killed in clashes with police
Missing girl found murdered:
Zainab, 7, had gone to a religious tuition centre near her house in the Road Kot area last Thursday (Jan 4) from where she is believed to have been abducted. Her parents had been in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage), according to her family, and she had been living with a maternal aunt.
Soon after her abduction, her panicked family had received footage showing her walking with a stranger near Peerowala Road.
On Tuesday, a police constable deputed to trace the girl recovered her body from a heap of trash near the Shahbaz Khan Road.
Police said the girl seemed to have been killed four or five days earlier.
A first information report had been registered against the disappearance of the girl on Jan 5, with the victim’s paternal uncle as the complainant in the case. Murder charges were added to the FIR on Jan 9, after the victim’s body was recovered.
‘I want justice for Zainab’
Zainab’s parents returned from their pilgrimage on Wednesday but they were unable to attend their child’s funeral prayers. As reporters surrounded them outside Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, her grieving mother said: “I have nothing to say, I just want justice for my daughter.”
Zainab’s father claimed that police “did not cooperate” with them: “It is our friends who have stood by us,” he regretted.
“We will not bury her until we get justice,” he asserted at the time. “We are now afraid of letting our children leave the home. How was our child kidnapped from a busy market?” he asked.
Police investigate as protests erupt:
Police earlier told media that DNA samples from the victim’s body have been dispatched for forensic testing. Police at the time dubbed the murder a serial killing, but said they were not ruling out rape.
Regional Police Officer (RPO) Kasur Zulfikar Muhammad confirmed that the girl was strangled to death. He told the media that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed the forensic lab to expedite the process for Zainab’s autopsy.
“Naturally, there is also a certain amount of time that the processing will take; there is a certain amount of time that the lab takes,” he said. It generally takes 24-48 hours for an autopsy to take place and a report to be issued.
Protests break out:
The recovery of Zainab’s body on Tuesday had ignited protests and a shutter-down strike in the city.
As word got around, traders shuttered their shops and staged a protest demonstration. Scores of other people also gathered at Steel Bagh Mor near the hospital and protested with the girl’s body in the middle of the road. They also threw traffic out of gear by burning tyres on Ferozepur Road and chanted slogans against police and local parliamentarians for their alleged apathy.
People from other parts of the country took to social media to share their anger and outrage over the murder using the hashtag #JusticeForZainab.
Sana appeals for calm:
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah appealed for calm, saying the provincial government had “taken notice of the case”.
“People need to keep their emotions in check and not aggravate the situation,” he advised.
The law minister appeared optimistic that the perpetrators would be arrested within the next eight to 10 hours, and said that the culprit seemed to have been an acquaintance of the family.
He added that “a child’s safety is its parents’ responsibility.”
Rights activist Farzana Bari observed that people “feel unsafe” and “have lost all trust in state institutions”.
“These people that are protesting do not have a leader, they are not being led,” she pointed out. “They are all protesting because they feel unsafe.”
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed while speaking to media said the culprits in such cases should be handed capital punishments so that such incidents don’t occur again.
PTI’s chief whip Shireen Mazari at a press conference in Islamabad raised questions over the conduct of police in the city.
“Where was the police when the girl went missing?” she asked.
Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahirul Qadri led the funeral prayers for the victim, with thousands of residents of the city gathered to lay the child to rest.
Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, taking notice of the incident earlier in the day, ordered the Punjab police to take swift action.
Sharif directed the inspector general of Punjab to bring the culprits to task as soon as possible and to submit an investigation report on the matter.
The Punjab chief minister later in the day made district police officer Kasur an officer on special duty (OSD), a Punjab government spokesman said. Sharif also constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) headed by Additional IG (Investigation) Abu Bakar Khuda Bux to investigate the incident and submit a report within 24 hours.
“I will not rest until justice has been provided to the affected family,” Sharif was quoted as saying.
Senate Committee Chairman Rehman Malik called the incident unforgivable and ordered that the Punjab police submit a report on the matter within the next five days.
Malik also said that the Inspector General of Punjab should personally investigate the matter and treat it as a challenge.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa condemned the “cold-blooded murder” and directed immediate support to the civil administration to arrest the criminals and bring them to justice, the army’s media wing tweeted.
The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl on Wednesday presented adjournment motions in the Senate and the National Assembly to discuss the failure of the government and local law enforcers to recover Zainab.
“The tragedy happened because the girl was not recovered in time,” the adjournment motion claimed. “This is not the first time such an incident has taken place in Kasur.”
By Wednesday evening, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, had taken notice of the incident and sought a report from the Inspector General of Police, Punjab, within 24 hours.
‘Must strengthen system to avoid such crimes’
Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani suggested introducing appropriate legislation and stricter legal implementation in order to prevent such incidents in the future.
“All institutions must work together, and implementation of laws must be strengthened,” he said.
Rabbani said that when the Kasur child abuse scandal surfaced in 2015, he had raised concerns that the outrage would die down within a few days, which is why it is necessary that the government take long-term measures to ensure the safety of children.
“Institutions and the government must work together on operational procedures for such incidents,” he said, adding that laws and a permanent institution must be introduced to deal with these crimes.
Laws for the protection of children must be made in line with international laws, he said. Existing laws that deal with crimes against women could possibly be expanded to include crimes against children, he suggested.
Laws tackling crimes against children must tackle brutality, child smuggling and different kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse, he recommended, adding that stronger legal implementation and punishment of criminals is necessary to avoid such incidents from occurring.
Kasur had last attained local and international notoriety in 2015 when a gang of paedophiles running a child sex ring was busted in the city.
The gang had allegedly abducted and sexually assaulted at least 280 children in the area, had blackmailed the families of the victims since 2009, and even sold video clips and images of the assault online.