Abid Malhi, Shafqat Bagga claim to be innocent during proceedings despite prosecution maintaining they had earlier confessed to the crime
The two primary suspects in the gang-rape of a woman near the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway were on Wednesday indicted by an Anti-Terrorism Court, which also recorded the statements of 10 prosecution witnesses in the case.
Abid Malhi and Shafqat Bagga both pleaded not guilty—despite allegedly having confessed to the crime during interrogations last year—prompting Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta to direct the prosecution to present its witnesses. The witnesses all recorded the statements before the judge, with the hearing to continue today (Thursday).
According to the prosecution, 53 witnesses have been provided against the suspects, including the victim and the man who had reported the incident to police via helpline. The prosecution noted that the victim had identified the suspects during an identification parade in the presence of a judicial magistrate. They said that police had recorded the victim’s statement thrice to ensure accuracy and transparency.
During proceedings, the prosecution said that weapons and phones had been confiscated from the suspects at the time of their arrests. It also noted that Malhi had spent a bulk of the money that was stolen from the victim while attempting to flee police. However, police have yet to recover the jewelry and ATM cards that Malhi had allegedly snatched from the woman.
The prosecution’s report also emphasized that the suspects had been traced with the help of DNA samples, and that the suspects had already confessed to their crime during investigations.
The two suspects were last year charged under sections 376, 392 and 427 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. In September last year, the victim—a mother traveling with her three children—was allegedly attacked by Malhi and Bagga after being dragged out of her car, which had ran out of fuel on the motorway. The crime had provoked widespread outrage, with the government vowing to implement harsher punishments for all sexual crimes to serve as deterrent for would-be criminals.