LAHORE   -  An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Saturday sentenced two men to death over the gang rape of a French-Pakistani mother, lawyers said, an attack that prompted nationwide protests and tough new anti-rape legislation.

The ATC convicted Abid Malhi and Shafqat Ali, prime accused and co-accused, in the Motorway gang-rape case after charges were proved against them. The court handed down death sentence to both the accused under Section 376 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for rape.

The court awarded life imprisonment to both accused under Section 365-A of PPC for kidnapping the victim and confiscating her property. Besides imposing Rs 200,000 fine each, the court also awarded 14 years imprisonment to both accused under Section 392 of PPC for robbery.

The court awarded five years imprisonment to both accused under Section 440 of PPC for mischief, besides imposing Rs 50,000 fine. The accused were also ordered to pay Rs 100,000 each as compensation to the victim under Section 337-F1 and 337-L2 of the PPC for causing injury to the victim.

ATC Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta announced the verdict at Camp Jail in the presence of the accused, their counsel, Deputy Prosecutor General Hafiz Asghar and Deputy Prosecutor General Waqar Bhatti. The court had reserved the verdict on March 18 after hearing detailed arguments of parties.

‘Solid evidence’

The prosecutors argued that the accused gang-raped the victim woman at gunpoint and solid evidence was available against them. They argued that the accused were arrested after their DNA matched with the samples collected from crime scene whereas the victim woman also identified them during identification parade held in the presence of the magistrate. They also submitted that co-accused Shafqat admitted the crime before a judicial magistrate. They pleaded with the court for handing down strict punishment to the accused as they committed a heinous crime.

However, the defence counsel opposed the plea, saying that the prosecution failed to prove presence of accused Shafqat on crime scene whereas the identification parade of Shafqat Ali was held after 22 days of his arrest. They submitted the statement of accused Shafqat was recorded after a delay of one month and eighteen days whereas he was forced to get record his statement. The defence also questioned the authenticity of the identification parade while raising various questions on process adopted during it.

It is pertinent to mention here that the prosecution presented 37 witnesses, including the victim woman, during the trial.

The Gujjarpura police had filed a challan against the accused, wherein they were declared guilty. The police had requested the court for awarding strict punishment to the accused as sufficient evidence was available against them.  

On September 9,   the accused- Abid Malhi and Shafqat Ali, allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint in Gujjarpura area while she was waiting for help on the motorway after her car ran out of fuel.

An FIR of the incident was lodged with the Gujjarpura police under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

‘Anger’

The woman was attacked in September last year in front of her small children on the side of a motorway after her car ran out of fuel near the southern city of Lahore.

An outpouring of anger was further fuelled by a police chief who chided the victim for driving at night without a male companion. “They’ve both been handed the death penalty,” Chaudhry Qasim Arain, a lawyer for both men, told reporters after the verdict and sentencing hearing. The two men would appeal the decision, announced at an anti-terrorism court in Lahore.

The attack and the subsequent demands for better protection of women prompted the government to introduce new legislation, including the establishment of special courts to speed up rape trials and the chemical castration of serial rapists.

‘Chemical castration’

Chemical castration of rapists involves using drugs to reduce a person’s libido. It was backed by the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan but activists said it was unclear how it would act as a deterrent.

Pakistan is a deeply conservative nation where 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 percent.

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.

At the time of the gang rape, Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh repeatedly berated the victim for driving at night without a man, 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 her home country. Thousands took part in protests, demanding justice and an increase in spending on initiatives that improve women’s safety, as well as an end to victim blaming.

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

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Camp Jail in the presence of the accused, their counsel, Deputy Prosecutor General Hafiz Asghar and Deputy Prosecutor General Waqar Bhatti. The court had reserved the verdict on March 18 after hearing detailed arguments of parties.

‘Solid evidence’

The prosecutors argued that the accused gang-raped the victim woman at gunpoint and solid evidence was available against them. They argued that the accused were arrested after their DNA matched with the samples collected from crime scene whereas the victim woman also identified them during identification parade held in the presence of the magistrate. They also submitted that co-accused Shafqat admitted the crime before a judicial magistrate. They pleaded with the court for handing down strict punishment to the accused as they committed a heinous crime.

However, the defence counsel opposed the plea, saying that the prosecution failed to prove presence of accused Shafqat on crime scene whereas the identification parade of Shafqat Ali was held after 22 days of his arrest. They submitted the statement of accused Shafqat was recorded after a delay of one month and eighteen days whereas he was forced to get record his statement. The defence also questioned the authenticity of the identification parade while raising various questions on process adopted during it. It is pertinent to mention here that the prosecution presented 37 witnesses, including the victim woman, during the trial.

The Gujjarpura police had filed a challan against the accused, wherein they were declared guilty. The police had requested the court for awarding strict punishment to the accused as sufficient evidence was available against them.  On September 9,   the accused- Abid Malhi and Shafqat Ali, allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint in Gujjarpura area while she was waiting for help on the motorway after her car ran out of fuel. An FIR of the incident was lodged with the Gujjarpura police under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

‘Anger’

The woman was attacked in September last year in front of her small children on the side of a motorway after her car ran out of fuel near the southern city of Lahore. An outpouring of anger was further fuelled by a police chief who chided the victim for driving at night without a male companion. “They’ve both been handed the death penalty,” Chaudhry Qasim Arain, a lawyer for both men, told reporters after the verdict and sentencing hearing. The two men would appeal the decision, announced at an anti-terrorism court in Lahore.