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In Pakistan, women stage nationwide protest in response to shocking rape incident

Aurat Azadi (Women's liberation) March at Lahore Liberty Roundabout on September 12, 2020. Screenshot from YouTube video by Ilme Alim.

Aurat Azadi (Women's liberation) March at Lahore Liberty Roundabout on September 12, 2020. Screenshot from YouTube video by Ilme Alim. Translation: Why liberal women are against capital punishment?

Pakistani women staged mass demonstrations in the country's major cities on September 12 demanding justice and accountability for sexual violence following a widely-publicized rape incident in the Lahore region.

On September 9, a woman who was travelling with her three children from Lahore to Gujranwala (97 km) at night was robbed and raped at gunpoint by three men after her car ran out of petrol in the Lahore-Sialkt Motorway.

According to Punjab's police, the newly-opened motorway does not have police patrol.

Social media went furious after the capital city police officer (CCPO) of Lahore, Umar Sheikh, blamed the incident on the victim's decision to travel at night during a TV interview.

Shortly after, a hashtag demanding the Sheikh's resignation began making the rounds on Twitter,

Pakistan's federal minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari condemned the CCPO's declaration:

Barrister Khadija Siddiqui, who in May 2016 was brutally assaulted by a male classmate in a street in Lahore, also rebuked the CCPO:

A major slogan of the September 12 rallies was “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (“my body, my choice”).

The organizers of Aurat March (Urdu for “Women's March”), who helped organize the protests in different cities, published a charter of demands, which includes opposition to hangings and support for judicial and police reforms to ensure “our bodies are safe and there is accountability for violence.”

In 2019, 3,881 cases of rape and 1,359 cases of child sexual abuse were registered in Punjab only. According to data by the Punjab police, 2,043 rape cases were registered in the first six months of 2020.

The police is investigating the motorway incident. While suspects have been identified, no arrests have been made yet.

Social media debates capital punishment

Whenever a rape incident gains media attention in Pakistan, people demand that men accused of rape are punished with death. This time was no different, and the hashtag #HangRapistsPublically trended on social media.

The women's wing of Jamat e Islami, a religious political party that also organized protests in response to the motorway incident, was among those who tweeted the hashtag.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also defended hangings in an interview. “They [rapists] should be given exemplary punishments. In my opinion, they should be hanged at the chowk [intersection],” Khan said.

The federal cabinet also endorsed the PM's views, while favoring “chemical castration” as punishment in order to protect the country from Western criticism.

But others expressed opposition to such punitive measures. Journalist Mehreen Zahra Malik said:

Reema Omer, a legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists, said:

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro tweeted:

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