Pakistan arrests suspect accused of raping woman on highway

MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police said Monday they have arrested one of the two assailants suspected in the gang rape of a woman on a deserted highway after another person was wrongfully detained in the case the previous day.

The assault, which happened near the eastern city of Lahore last week, has shocked Pakistan, even though attacks on women are common in this deeply conservative Muslim country. The incident drew scores of protesters to the streets in several cities, including Islamabad and Karachi, denouncing attacks on women.

The woman in the case was raped by two armed men after her car broke down late at night on a highway in the province of Punjab, where Lahore is the capital. The police said she had locked her car doors when she ran out of fuel and dialed for help but the attackers broke a car window and dragged her outside where they raped her before her terrified children.

Last Thursday, police detained 15 people for questioning. On Sunday, a man was detained but later denied involvement in the high-profile crime, though he remains in police custody. The man, Waqarul Hassan, said he was wrongly named in the case because his mobile phone’s SIM card was being used by one of his friends, who later turned out to be one of the suspects.

Punjab’s chief minister, Uzman Buzdar, announced Monday’s arrest, identifying the suspect as Shafqat Ali, and pledging that his accomplice and the second of the two suspects, Abid Malhi, will also soon be arrested.

Ali was taken into custody during a police raid on his home village in Punjab. Buzdar said raids were underway to catch Malhi.

On Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with local TV station 99 NEWS condemned the gang rape, proposing public executions for convicted rapists and even going so far as to suggest surgical castration so that “they can do nothing.”

Khan said, without elaborating, that Malhi — the second suspect in last week’s assault who remains on the run — had also been involved in another gang rape in 2013. The prime minister said the country needed new legislation to permanently sterilize those linked to such crimes.

Human rights activists have also demanded the removal of the Lahore police chief, Umar Sheikh, who blames the victim for traveling alone with her children after midnight without checking whether her car had enough fuel. The police chief later apologized for his remarks, saying his comments were not aimed at blaming her for the incident.

Gang rape is rare in Pakistan, although sexual harassment and violence against women is frequently reported. Nearly 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings” for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage.

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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