KASUR: An air of gloom, mixed with rage, hovers over Kasur, situated around an hour’s drive from the Punjab capital of Lahore, following the brutal discovery of the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab.
The minor girl, a resident of Road Kot area of Kasur, had gone missing on January 4 when she ventured out of the house. Her body was found in a garbage pile near Kashmir Chowk five days later.
Protests re-erupted in the city today following a day of demonstrations on Wednesday after news of the incident sparked nationwide public outrage.
To add to the misery, police firing on protesters, who were venting their anger over the incident, left two people dead on Wednesday.
Residents are still protesting on Kali Pul Chowk, whereas the Ferozepur Road, linking Kasur to nearby towns and cities, remains blocked. Moreover, protests against the incident are being taken out across the country, from Peshawar to Karachi.
Markets in Kasur are also closed in protest against the incident while sporadic demonstrations are also being held outside the District Headquarters Hospital. Protesters also ransacked the hospital, which was left devoid of security and medical staff.
The Punjab Bar Council had also announced a complete boycott of courts today and demanded the immediate arrest of the killer(s).
Later in the afternoon, protesters attacked the dera residence of PML-N MPA Naeem Safdar. Police resorted to tear gas shelling and use of water cannon to disperse protesters.
Slain protesters buried
Meanwhile, the funeral of the two protesters allegedly killed by the police firing, Shoaib and Mohammad Ali, was held in the city’s college ground.
The funeral prayers, attended by a large number of locals, traders and political leaders, were read by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasoolullah chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Rizvi recently held a protest sit-in against the government in Islamabad.
The post-mortem report of the slain protesters is also expected to be released today.
Two policemen and as many civil defence officials have been held for firing on protesters while murder charges have been included in two FIRs registered against 16 unidentified policemen on the complaints of the deceased’s brothers.
They liked to race to aunt’s house: Zainab’s uncle
Talking on Geo News’ morning show Geo Pakistan Thursday morning, Mudassar, the paternal uncle of the victim, said Zainab and his son, seven-year-old Usman, would go to their aunt’s house daily to read the Quran.
He said that the two kids would often race to get there, and on that fateful evening Zainab went out first, followed by Usman, but wasn’t at her Khala’s house by the time Usman reached there.
Mudassar also stated that he doesn’t recognise the man walking next to Zainab in the CCTV footage, saying that the potential suspect is forcibly holding her arm in the video.
Rs 1 crore prize money for identifying culprit
Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced Rs 1 crore prize money for whoever identifies the culprit behind the heinous crime.
Chairing an important meeting over the Kasur tragedy on Thursday, Shehbaz also announced Rs 3 million each for the families of the two protesters killed in firing by the police.
The chief minister said that the challan for Zainab case would be presented in the court within 24 hours.
He also said that the Safe City Project would be expanded to Kasur, and summoned details of all 12 cases pending, said his spokesperson.
CM Shehbaz also visited Zainab’s residence earlier today. In his conversation with the deceased’s parents, the chief minister promised not to rest until the culprit(s) responsible for the heinous crime is brought to book.
The chief minister was accompanied by senior government officials and the Punjab government spokesperson.
Moreover, overnight, officials of an intelligence agency collected evidence and recorded the statements of victim Zainab’s family.
‘Strangled to death, raped multiple times’
Zainab’s initial postmortem report stated that she was strangled to death after being raped multiple times. However, officials said the exact cause of death would be determined after further forensic examination.
Zainab’s parents claimed that police did not cooperate in finding their child after she went missing. “If the police would have acted immediately, the culprit would have been caught,” said Zainab’s father.
The funeral prayers of the deceased were offered Wednesday afternoon, led by Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s Tahirul Qadri.
Zainab was laid to rest later in the evening.
Suo motu notice
Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar also took suo motu notice of the case later on Wednesday, ordering the Punjab Inspector General of Police to submit a report to the court within 24 hours.
Earlier that day, responding to the parents’ appeal, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa issued directives for all-out support to the civil administration to arrest the criminals and bring them to exemplary justice.
Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah had also taken notice of the incident and summoned reports from the Kasur sessions judge and police officials.
The chief minister also constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by Additional Inspector-General Abubakar Khuda Bakhsh.
The JIT, which also includes officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau, was ordered to submit its report within 24 hours.
Protests, police firing
At least two people were killed and one injured when police opened fire on protesters who had broken into the DC Office on Wednesday while protesting the incident. Video from the protests showed some policemen opening straight fire on protesters.
Enraged protesters vandalised public property and cars inside the vicinity along with pelting stones at police officers.
One of the protesters shared that seven minor girls were kidnapped last year, yet the police failed to arrest a single suspect.
Two suspects involved: Punjab law minister
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Wednesday two people were suspected to be involved in the rape and murder of Zainab, adding they will be arrested soon and given an exemplary punishment.
He also challenged the narrative pertaining to police’s inaction in the case, adding that the police were in contact with the minor’s family constantly and conducting an investigation.
When asked about lack of police action regarding similar cases in Kasur, Sanaullah remarked that all the cases are of different nature. It’s not that there is just one suspect behind all the incidents whom the police have failed to arrest, he said.
The CCTV footage shows that the minor was walking with someone she knew. “It was either someone from her family, neighbourhood or servant,” the minister speculated.
On the violent protests in Kasur, he remarked that the people should control their emotions in such situations and not cause harm to public property. “It is worrisome that some people are resorting to violence, arson. I request people to stay calm and exercise patience.”
Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer Zulfiqar Hameed said it was not correct to term the incident negligence on the part of the police.
The minor’s family provided the CCTV footage and neighbours also helped in the case but it is incorrect to think that police is being negligent, Hameed said.
Hameed also said that 96 samples of DNA have been sent for testing, adding that the police hope to find a DNA match in at least five cases.
Earlier, Kasur District Police Officer Zulfiqar Ahmed revealed that over 5,000 people have been questioned in eight cases related to minor girls being allegedly raped and then murdered in the city, while medical checkups of 67 individuals have taken place.
Ahmed was later removed from office and made an officer on special duty (OSD).
On February 25 last year, a seven-year-old girl was allegedly raped and then strangled to death in Kasur. According to reports, her body was found at an abandoned house near her residence in Ali Park.
The victim’s family and neighbours had protested by blocking Lahore Road demanding justice.
In August 2015, the country’s biggest child abuse scandal was unearthed in Ganda Singh Wala area of Kasur, where around 400 objectionable videos were made of 280 victims of abuse by a gang of over 25 criminals.