Pakistan

Police indifference, intimidation of families and clout of molesters kept Kasur child abuse scandal under wraps for years: HRCP fact-finding team

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan constituted a fact-finding team to ascertain the ground realities of the Kasur child abuse scandal that rocked the country after startling revelations of molestation of children in the Punjab village.

The HRCP in its detailed report released to the media says its commission “has received credible testimonies indicating large-scale sexual abuse of children over many years in village Husain Khan Wala in Kasur district. It is clear that a heinous crime has been committed against children.”

The report said the references made to a land dispute in the village are irrelevant and nothing can justify avoidance of impartial investigation and prosecution.

“The fact-finding team agrees that the crime remained concealed largely because the victims’ families paid extortion money and they were also intimidated.”

The police could not have been unaware of the video clippings freely circulating in the area and rumours of abuse of children and their failure to take action lends support to charges of policemen’s collusion with the culprits.

The HRCP said its team found the role of political parties very disturbing and it is also disturbed at the victim families’ lack of interest in the children’s psychological rehabilitation.

Background:

A scandal of sexual abuse/exploitation of children was exposed after news of a clash between the police and protestors in Kasur (sometime in the first week of August) that left two dozen protesters and, according to police claims, 28 police personnel injured. The reason for this protest was the failure of the police to take any action to arrest persons accused of sexual abuse of children in a number of FIRs lodged with the police between May and August of this year.

The media have reported the existence of several hundred video clips that showed scenes of sexual abuse involving almost 300 children. There are allegations by the families of the victims and local social activists, both of negligence and of collusion in concealing facts and evidence against the police, influence of local politicians to protect the accused and of intimidation of complainants and witnesses by the accused and the police.

On the 11th of August, the same day as the team’s visit to Kasur, a joint investigation team had been constituted for this investigation on the orders of the Chief Minister, Punjab.

Following the media reports HRCP and AGHS CRU jointly dispatched a nine-member team to visit Kasur and village Hussain Khanwala on the 11th of August 2015. The team visited the concerned police station and the village and conducted interviews with the local police, families of some of the victims and others who claimed to be local social activists who are assisting the complainants.

 

The Fact Finding:

The Team started its fact finding from P.S. Ganda SinghWala, the police station concerned. The SHO of this police station had recently been suspended after complaints from the victim families that he was in collusion with the accused and was making videos of all those who approached the police with information on the crime or to register a complaint related to the sexual abuse of their child or relative.

An inside view of the haveli used for molesting children in the village.

 

A new SHO had already been appointed, but he declined to meet the team. Even though certain media persons present at the police station had seen him in the premises, the Thana staff told the Team that the SHO was out on field duty. The team was unable to contact the DPO Kasur despite two visits to his office and several attempts to contact him on the phone. It was learnt later after the team’s return from Kasur that the DPO had been removed from his post by order of the Chief Minister.

The Moharar and Naib Moharar of the police station, however, agreed to provide the Team with the required information. HRCP appreciates their cooperation.

The Team was told that, till the day of the Fact Finding visit (11th August), 8 FIRs had been registered against 15 accused persons by family members of the different victims. This includes one FIR that has been filed for criminal intimidation against some persons from the accused party by one of the complainants of the earlier FIRs.

According to the information received from the police, 12 of the accused were already under arrest, the interim pre-arrest bail of one accused, Tanzilur Rahman, was cancelled on August 11 and he had also been taken into custody, and two namely, Irfan Ahmed and Waseem Sindhi were still evading arrest.

All the accused were from the same village and lived in close proximity to the victim families. Many of the accused were related to each other.  Haseem Amir, the main accused, his father and 2 brothers were amongst the arrested accused. The arrested accused who were still on remand were not being held in the police lock-up at the P.S., but at another police station in the City because of security reasons, as the public sentiments were still inflamed. The earliest FIR registered was on July 1, by one Malik Usman, brother of one of the victims. Two more FIRs were registered on the same day by other complainants. Subsequent FIRs are dated 4, 9, and 13th of July, 2015.

According to the police, it was towards the end of May 2015 that “secret information” was received about a criminal group in Village Hussain Khanwala that was involved in sexual abuse of children and making video films of scenes of the crime and using these to blackmail families of the victims to extort money from them, and that the villagers were planning to organize a protest demonstration in this regard. A police party went to the village to investigate the “secret” report on May 26.

The police report following this visit recorded by Muhammad Amin Moharar, states that elders of the village who were questioned affirmed that some families had complained that an unknown group in the village was committing sexual abuse of children and using the video clippings for blackmail and extortion. The same report also mentions that the one of these “respectables”, Mubeen Ahmed son of Muizuddin, also informed the police that these allegations had emerged during a gathering of people on a different issue, involving a piece of public land owned by the Canal department that some private persons in the village had acquired through political influence.

Mubeen Ahmed claimed that he wanted the land to be put to public use for constructing a hospital and using as a cricket ground for children. The report ended with the finding that as no clues with regard to the video clippings were found and the allegations of gang activities of sexual abuse were still just rumours. In case  any direct complaint of such activity was received in the future, appropriate action will be taken.

The author of this report Muhammad Amin Moharar categorically denied reports received by the team from media sources that the police had received complaint of one incident of sexual abuse against the same accused in 2013 from one Mst. Bashiran, whose son was a victim. The police officer also denied that the said Bashiran had been beaten by one of the accused in the police station and the police had participated in her torture.

The Moharar was aware that a joint investigation team had been constituted, but could provide no information on the progress of investigation by the Investigating Officer who was already entrusted with the case. The I.O., a sub-inspector of P.S. Ganda Singh Wala was not available to meet the team. While he acknowledged that the number of objectionable clippings was in the hundreds, he denied that the number of victims was in the hundreds. At the same time he claimed lack of knowledge on the number of victims except those named in the FIRs registered with the police. On a query by the team regarding police actions for recovery of the objectionable video clippings and for prevention of their further circulation, the police officer said that plain clothed policemen were stationed in the village to detect the circulation and other use of the video clippings, but no such material had been recovered so far.

During its visit to the village, the team met with some of the victims, members of their families, media persons and Mubeen Ghaznavi, a resident of the village who claims to be a local social activist and the spokesperson for the complainant families.

The village residents conducted the HRCP team to a house in the village owned by relatives of Mubeen, where a number of people were gathered, including journalists, electronic media, village residents and the victims and their family members.  The team spoke to several concerned persons. However, it was Mubeen Ahmed who spoke on behalf of the complainant families.

According to Mubeen Ghaznavi, the existence of the videos was revealed about 7-8 months ago, when one of victim children went to a mobile shop to get an Indian movie downloaded in his phone and the shopkeeper got the memory card of that mobile. The videos then started circulating in the village, and people came to know about this activity. It is around that time that Bashiran Bibi went to the police station to complain about the accused, who had victimized her son. Mubeen supported the allegation that she was beaten and threatened by the police at PS Ganda Singh Wala and her complaint was not registered.

The villagers kept silent about the matter for many months because of the scandalous nature of the clippings and because of close relationship with many of the people concerned on both sides, the victims and the accused.

Many of the parents/families did not know of what was happening to their children. Many of the victim children were stealing money and jewelry from their families in order to pay extortion money to the accused who were blackmailing the children and threatening to make the videos public. The parents would chastise their children after discovery of the theft, but did not file cases of theft. However, there were some families, who also paid extortion money to the accused to keep the scandal from becoming public.

After some time some of the parents including, Mst. Bashiran, got to know about the videos from village sources, and a group of people decided to take action. However, most of the victims’ families were reluctant to take legal action or to expose the incidence of abuse of their children, because of fear of dishonor. Initially there was consultation amongst the village leaders and the general trend was to reach some reconciliation without taking any legal recourse. According to Mubeen, the Panchayat had discussed the issue and, if everyone had cooperated, the issue would have been resolved at the village level with some settlement between the accused and the complainant families. However, a compromise could not be reached. Ultimately Bashiran took the matter to the police. This opened the way for others to file formal complaints.

Despite FIRs being filed since early July 2015,the police took no action against many of the accused.While the police made no progress in investigation, they openly colluded with the accused party and aided the intimidation and harassment of the victim families and their supporters. This led to a protest demonstration by the complainant families and other villagers in August. The demonstration turned violent after the police used force against the protestors and this resulted in several people being injured. After the demonstration the whole scandal was revealed to the media.

The HRCP team said the police have always acted in a partisan manner and even now are concealing evidence and there are several examples of their negligence. He made reference to a television channel that had filmed inside the ‘haveli’ that is the site of some of the incidents of sexual abuse of children, and had shown “injections and drugs” that were ostensibly used for these crimes. He said the police had not bothered to secure this evidence and had left the site accessible to anyone. This reflects both negligence and collusion of the police.

He also claimed that the police have recovered many more clippings than the 72 that they have mentioned to the media. He also claims to have heard the testimony of one of the victims before the police who had told them that almost 400 such clippings exist of abuse of different children.

He himself has seen some of the videos and has identified the victims. He has not seen all the videos, so cannot say with certainty how many children were involved. Those of the victims that he has spoken to, all name the same persons who are the nominated accused in the different FIRs that have been filed.

He said the DPO and the RPO are, under political influence, trying to make it out to be a land dispute issue, which is untrue. There is a piece of public land over the use of which there are differences, but that has nothing to do with this scandal. There is ample evidence of this crime. It is now for the police to investigate honestly and to identify who are the perpetrators of the crime and who are victims.

The Team also spoke to Mst. Suraya Bibi, the mother of one of the victims and a complainant in one of the 8 FIRs. In the initial part of the interview, her 16 year old son was also present. However, as there were many people present, the team members could not guarantee the privacy of the child victims, and requested the children to move away. The Team was conscious that it was not equipped to interview child witnesses on such a traumatic experience, so avoided questioning them during the fact-finding.

Mst. Suraya told the Team that Haseem Amir s/o Yahya, together with his accomplices had been sexually abusing her son and filming the sordid crime since 2011. Her son was 12 years old at the time that the abuse happened for the first time. The accused and his family are her next-door neighbors. They have always had a bad reputation in the village and Haseem Amir’s father had, in the past, also sexually harassed her and abducted her with the intention of forcing her to have illicit relations with him.

She came to know of the crimes committed against her son a few months ago, when the mother of another victim told her that her son was also seen in the clippings that were being circulated. She went to the house of one Yaseen Sufi, who had these video clippings and saw some of them and identified her son. She said that the men in the village had been watching these videos and knew what had happened, much before the women were made aware of the wide spread sexual abuse of children in the village.

She could not give the Team any information on the date of these clippings. She said she participated in the consultations with the Panchayat, but since the matter could not be settled at that level, she decided to file a formal complaint against the accused. She supported the allegations of police torture on Mst. Bashiran and said that, in fact, it was only after that incident that the other families approached the police and insisted on their FIRs being registered.

 

Observations and Findings of the HRCP team:

 

  1. Sexual Abuse of children and scale of the crime in village Hussain Khanwala:

 

  1. There is a body of material and credible testimonies indicating not only that a large number of children had been sexually abused and exploited by the accused, but also that this abuse had continued over a period of years – at least since 2010.
  2. The Team has noted the ages of the children stated in the FIRs and also estimated the ages of the children claiming to be victims of this crime in the village. According to the estimate of the Team most of these children were between 10-16 years of age when the incidents of sexual abuse against them started to take place.

iii.          The Team estimates that several hundred video clippings depicting scenes of sexual activity with children exist. It is, however, not possible to give a conclusive estimate of the number of childreninvolved. The crime committed against children in this case makes the exact number of victims irrelevant. That the incidents involved several children from the same village and from the same neighborhoods, in some cases, is sufficient to make this a heinous crime against children.

  1. The Team notes the comment repeatedly made by the police that it is not certain whether the children were abused or were the abusers is yet uncertain. While it is true that videos alone can reveal the true nature of the acts committed, the team remains cognizant of the fact that owing to the age of the children their involvement in any act of the this nature will be viewed as abuse and exploitation by those who were filming the act.
  2. The Team has taken note of some media reports and comments by the police that the scandal may have been concocted by one party against another in the village who are contesting the ownership of a piece of public land.In the presence of clear and convincing evidence that a heinous crime against children of this village has occurred, the issue of the land becomes irrelevant in the context of the duty of the state to investigate and to take all necessary measures to protect these children and young persons from exploitation. It is possible that persons with ulterior motives are opportunistically using this scandal to further their interests. However, that should in no way overshadow the urgent need to address the complaints by victim families and to ensure that honest and impartial investigation and prosecutions be carried out against those named as accused. The team, therefore, finds no need to explore the merits of the land issue in the context of the present fact-finding.

 

Children who were molested by the accused in the village

 

 

  1. Allegations of Blackmail, Extortion and Intimidation:

 

  1. The Team has heard credible testimonies from victim children and their families and believes that this crime remained concealed largely because extortion money was paid either by the children or their families to the accused.
  2. No specific names of persons receiving this money or the details of any payment, however, could be elicited from the persons interviewed by the Team. Nevertheless, from its conversations with the police, it is evident that some evidence of the extortion and black mail exists.

iii.          Intimidation of the complainant families by the accused is also borne out by the statement of several persons from the village and the repeatedcomplaints by the families of the victims to the police.  One FIR for intimidationhas also been registered by the uncle of one of the victims who is also a complainant in the FIR against the accused group for sexual abuse of his nephew.

  1. Many of them implicate the police also in the campaign of intimidation that has intensified after the whole scandal has come in public view.
  2. The Team was told by multiple sources in that the SHO Ganda Singh Wala had on one occasion filmed the complainants who had come to register their complaint against the accused and had given that video to the accused persons. The SHO was suspended because of complaints against him.

 

  1. Police neglect of duty and collusion:

 

  1. The wide circulation of the video clippings and rumors going around the village preceding the registration of cases connected to this scandal could and should not have escaped the notice of the police for so many months.
  2. The incident involving Mst. Bashiran, known to so many people in the village, merits belief. This incident indicates both collusion of the police and the fact that torture and humiliation of complainants is a usual mode of treatment meted out to common citizens even in this police station.

iii.          The behavior and conduct of the previous SHO Shah Waliullah is certainly suspected. The team also noticed that the staff members of PS who spoke to the team were visibly on their guard and unwilling to give full information on the investigation of the case.

  1. A major reason to suspect absence of good faith is the report prepared by the Moharar regarding the “secret information” of the sexual abuse incidents and the non-serious way it was dismissed. The only motive for that report seems to be the intention of putting the land dispute on record and discrediting any complaints made by the victims and their families. This is still being used to undermine the stories being told by the children and diverting the public opinion.
  2. The team noticed the absence of any effective investigation by the police till the time of the fact-finding visit. No witnesses had been examined, no evidence had been collected from the reported sites of abuse. Even the objectionable videos that were circulating in the village had not been confiscated.
  3. The police could not give a satisfactory account of their action to secure and preserve evidence or to prevent further circulation of objectionable video clippings. A TV channel reportedly had unhindered access to one of the crime scenes, i.e., the ‘haveli’ of the accused and had filmed what it claimed to be implements used in the crime. This indicates gross incompetence of the police and also their non-serious attitude in investigating the crime.

 

  1. Political influence and interference in police investigation:

 

  1. The team heard the complaint of several people that local politicians were pressurizing the police to downplay the occurrence. None of these complaints, however, were specific to any one personality. Some of the media persons did say that a local MPA was helping the accused party and that some of these people were his relatives or from his clan. The team could not collect any specific information that allows it to make a conclusive finding of using political influenceagainst any one person or group in favor of the accused.
  2. It is, nevertheless, true that the behavior of the police and public statements made by some of the PML (N) leaders casts a doubt on their commitment to ensure that justice is done to the victims and that serious measures are taken to prevent further harm to them and their families. RaanaSanaullah, for instance, tried to dismiss the whole incident as a fabrication instigated by persons with a vested interest in a landdispute in village HussainKhanwala.

iii.          The Team also notes the comments made by some of the media people about the credentials of those gathered around the victim families and also disclosed their political affiliations, particularly with a religious organization.

  1. Cumulatively the potential for opportunistic use of the incident for political purposes did exist. It was very apparent that the lead in determining the course to be taken by the complainants in pursuing their complaints was being charted out by other than those directly affected. For instance, the demand that the CM comes to the village was not decided by the families, but by the so-called supporters.
  2. – The team found the role of the political parties and their leadership very disturbing.  It saw leaders and workers of some of the political parties. All of them made inflammatory speeches against the Provincial Government. They paid little attention to the need for protection of the children against abuse and exploitation. Not a single one of them who made long speeches before the TV channels raised any social issues of concern, nor spoke about any efforts that they would make for better legislation or policy for child protection. It was strange that, to the best of the team’s knowledge, none of them even met the police to ascertain the status of investigation.
  3. The team can only conclude that their main aim was to use the situation to discredit the government and that none of the political leadership who visited the village played any constructive role in assuring justice for the victims.

 

  1. The Situation of the victim children

 

  1. The team found the total disregard for the physical and psychological impact of the abuse on the victims very distressing.
  2. None of those including the parents raised any concerns in this regard with the team.

iii.          Suggestions by team members that the children should receive proper medical attention and psychological counseling were given no serious attention by the families of these children, nor those who were leading their pursuit for justice against the accused.

  1. There was no discussion in the village on what needed to be done to assure that such criminal activity was to an end and never repeated.
  2. No NGOs or practitioners with expertise in dealing with the trauma of abuse was engaged in rehabilitative program in the village.

 

The fact-finding team was led by Hina Jilani, Advocate, member of HRCP Executive Council and Director of AGHS Child Rights Unit, and formerly UN Secretary-General’s Representatives for Human Rights defenders. The other members of the team were journalist Waqar Gilani and representatives of HRCP, AGHS and the Aurat Foundation.

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