Pakistan court condemns two men to death in highway rape case

LAHORE (CNA) – A Pakistani court sentenced two men to death on Saturday for the gang rape of a woman in front of her children last year alongside a motorway in the eastern city of Lahore, a prosecutor said.

Hafiz Asghar said the verdict in the closely watched, six-month trial of Abid Malhi and his accomplice Shafqat Ali was issued inside the prison where it was held in Lahore.

Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta also sentenced the men to 14 years imprisonment, time that must be served before any executions can take place, he added. Appeals or commutations are likely. According to the prosecutor and police, Malhi and Ali found the woman waiting for help after her car ran out of fuel.

She had locked the car doors but the attackers broke a window and dragged her outside where they raped her at gunpoint in front of her terrified children. The men also stole money, jewellery, and bank cards before fleeing.

They were tracked down via mobile phone data, Asghar added, and arrested days after the incident. DNA samples taken from the crime scene matched thiers. The survivor identified the two men during the hearing, and Ali confessed to the crime before a magistrate.

“The survivor had identified the convicts twice during the identification parade in jail and while recording her statement in front of the judge,” another prosecutor, Waqar Bhatti, said.

The crime had drawn widespread condemnation on social media, with some activists demanding that those involved be hanged in public, and has been closely followed on Pakistani television. Human rights activists have urged the government to introduce harsh new penalties for rapists.

The case was handled by an anti-terrorism court for expediency.

Rights campaigners also called for an end to a culture that they said regularly blames victims of assault. After the rape in September, one senior police official publicly questioned why the woman had been driving alone at night with her children.

Malhi and Ali did not hire lawyers, and their state-appointed attorneys were not available for comment following the verdict.

In December, Pakistan introduced a new rape law, creating create special courts in a bid to speed up prosecutions and setting up a national sex offender registry.