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Stealing the thunder in Punjab police style

It reflects badly on the province’s law-enforcement agencies that they failed to arrest the main accused of the motorway gang rape case until he turned himself in to save his detained family

It took 33 days for the police and law-enforcement agencies numbering in the thousands to arrest the main accused of motorway gang rape case Abid Malhi. In fact, the accused surrendered before the police but the law-enforcement agencies wanted to steal his thunder. Earlier the police dragnet somehow managed to locate him but he gave them the slip four times. The arrest was finally made possible by the family members of the accused.

Since Abid was in touch with his family, his father Akbar Malhi begged him to come home and then handed him over to a local notable Khalid Butt so that the police would not harm him. Butt then handed him over to the police.

Earlier, after the motorway incident, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, IG Punjab Inam Ghani and Law Minister Raja Basharat held a press conference to announce that the accused has been identified but unfortunately could not be arrested as he managed to escape before the police raid. Normally a press conference is held to announce the arrest of accused in high-profile cases but this was the first one held to reveal the escape of the accused with claims that he would be nabbed soon.

However, Abid himself surrendered before the police to save his family members, including his wife, sisters, brother, and parents, who had been illegally detained for a month.

Following this development, the Punjab chief minister hastily announced a Rs5 million reward for the team which had arrested the accused. However, after the real facts come to light even the chief justice of Lahore High Court questioned the purpose of reward since it is the duty of the police to catch the criminals. Due to the controversy, the Punjab government is now maintaining complete silence in this matter.

The motorway incident took place on the night of September 9 when a woman along with her two children was traveling from Lahore to Gujranwala via Motorway Eastern Bypass where her car ran out of fuel. While she was waiting for help, Abid Malhi and his accomplice Shafqat Ali robbed and raped her before fleeing.

As soon as the news broke, it caused widespread outrage, and all the departments concerned jumped into action. The role of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency remained significant in the case. Its officers collected blood samples of the accused from the crime scene and fortunately, these matched the DNA of Abid since his samples were already in the forensic laboratory’s databank. He was charged in a similar case in Bahawalpur where he had raped a woman and her daughter in 2013. The case was resolved as the accused reconciled with the family of the victims. Later, he was thrown out of the community due to his criminal activities. The accused has been charged with eight counts of rape and other crimes from 2013 to 2017. He was arrested several times but was released on bail every time.

He was last arrested on August 8, 2020, but was again released on bail. The accused was clever enough to escape arrest after the motorway incident despite multiple raids conducted following reports of his presence. To escape detection, he used a face mask, changed his appearance, and also grew a beard.

The accused reached Chiniot after traveling through different cities and took a lift from a motorcyclist on Satiana Road. Abid told him that he had left home due to domestic issues and asked him to help him get a job. The man got him a job with a man named Abbas in a slum area of Chiniot where he worked for several days.

Meanwhile, police had laid the trap all over Punjab, especially at shrines, for his arrest. His pictures were splashed at police stations and various public spaces. The pictures released by police depicted Abid’s appearance in disguise; with shaved head and mustache, with a shaved head and French beard, and with an only shaved head. Police also contacted the authorities of other provinces and shared the details of the accused. They also issued strict blockade orders at the entrance and exit points of the province and teams were deployed in different cities to arrest him.

Police had detained seven relatives, including his sister and brother-in-law, to reach Abid. The IG Punjab also sent letters to police officers of all districts for the arrest of the accused and informed them that he may be hiding at shrines, mosques, Imambargahs, and other public spaces. The letter directed the broadcast of video clips of the accused on cable TV and guaranteed anonymity of those helping in his arrest.

After his arrest, Abid was interrogated by CIA Model Town DIG Investigation Shahzada Sultan, SSP Investigation Abdul Ghaffar Qaisrani, and other officers including SP CIA. During the investigation, it was revealed that Abid, Shafqat, and Bala Mistry had left Karol village on the night of September 9 with the intention of commit-ting robbery. Bala Mistry left midway and Abid and Shafqat went to Karol forest and robbed two to three tractor trolley drivers. Then they saw a car with its hazard light blinking parked on the motorway. A woman was inside the car and they asked her to come out. On her refusal, they broke the car’s window and forced her out.

After taking the woman’s watch, jewelry and cash, they command-ed her to come with them away from the motorway. The woman refused and they took her children instead. When the woman came to save the children, they raped her. They fled when the Dolphin Force officers arrived and fired some shots in the air.

Abid went to Nankana Sahib and Shafqat went to Depalpur. Abid revealed during investigation that from Nankana Sahib he went to Bahawalpur where he moved around freely wearing a face mask and traveled to different cities on public transport for a month. When he ran out of money, he contacted his father and was later arrested.

The next day CIA Police presented him in Anti-Terrorism Court which remanded him in custody for 14 days and ordered an identification parade to be held in jail.

The accused, Shafqat, had already been arrested earlier. Due to the sensitivity of the case, the identity of the victim is being kept confidential. The victim identified Shafqat during his judicial remand at Camp Jail. He was handed over to the police on physical remand till October 28 during which time pistols and stolen goods would be recovered.

An inquiry was initiated on the orders of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar as to how the information and picture of accused Abid was leaked before his arrest but that inquiry report is still pending.

Article by: Rozeena Faraz

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