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    Sunday, 25 February 2018

    Kasur Child abuse case- ATC acquits 12 after victims, witnesses retract

    An anti-terrorism court acquitted 12 Kasur men of child sex abuse and blackmail charges on Saturday, after the complainant and all 16 witnesses turned hostile.
    Some of the acquitted included those who were convicted earlier in another case relating to the massive paedophilia scandal that rocked the country in August 2015.
    The abuse and extortion scandal in Hussain Khanwala village of Kasur district, which authorities have called the largest in country’s history, involved hundreds of victims – majority of whom were around 14 years of age.
    Reportedly, videos were made of at least 280 children being sexually abused by a gang of around two dozen men, who also extorted money by blackmailing the victims and their parents, for years with impunity.
    Though reported earlier by some media channels, the gravity and scale of the problem was highlighted when this paper ran a front-page story, evoking a nationwide response and violent protests in Kasur –forcing authorities to move against the alleged criminals.
    But an official expressed helplessness of the prosecution after Saturday’s decision, saying they can’t do anything when complainants and witnesses succumb to the pressure of powerful criminals.
    Giving benefit of doubt, ATC-IV Judge Chaudhary Muhammad Ilyas had acquitted Yahya, Naseem Shehzad and Waseem Sindhi in FIR 190/2015 on last hearing. Another dozen men acquitted on Saturday for lack of evidence included Haseem Ahmed and Aleem Asif.
    Waseem, Haseem and Aleem were found guilty and handed life imprisonment in April last year by the same court in another case relating to the Kasur scandal.
    The defence lawyers rejected the allegations of the complainant side saying that the suspects were booked just because of the government pressure. They said that they had no role in the alleged incidents of child abuse.
    A prosecutor expressed resentment over the acquittals and admitted they were helpless in the flawed legal system where the powerful can easily manipulate things to their favour.
    “We collect evidence and produce witnesses , but what could we do when the victims and witnesses are not ready to record their statements, or they backtrack [on their previous statements]?” he asked.
    “The convictions [in the previous such case] happened primarily because the victims and witnesses had shown courage,” he told The Nation while requesting anonymity.
    A total nine cases were registered by the police in this child abuse scandal. In some of the cases, the trial court had deleted Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act from the FIRs and referred the trials of the suspects to the court of ordinary jurisdiction.
    Later, the prosecution, however, challenged removal of Section 7 of ATC from the FIRs before the Lahore High Court which restored the provision of the terrorism.
    Despite challenges, hopes have not faded regarding the protection of children in this country of 208 million souls.
    Following the Kasur scandal the Senate, in March 2016, passed a bill that criminalised sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking for the first time - previously only the acts of rape and sodomy were punishable by law.
    Also, last week a court handed four death sentences to a man charged with raping and murdering a six-year-old girl in the same district. This unrelated case too had shocked the country and sparked major riots in Kasur.
    Imran Ali, 24, was on trial for killing Zainab Fatima Ameen. Described by police as a serial killer, he faces further charges of attacking seven other children - five of whom were murdered.
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    Item Reviewed: Kasur Child abuse case- ATC acquits 12 after victims, witnesses retract Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Asqamar