Security forces claim some of the videos recovered show consensual partners, as activists demand a more impartial probe.
Police investigating a major child sex abuse scandal in the Kasur district of Punjab province claim to have identified over 10 men involved in the filming of teenage boys and girls, amidst claims from activists that they are protecting the culprits.
At least 280 children were filmed being sexually abused by 25 men who used the videos they produced to blackmail the children and their parents, according to Latif Ahmed Sara, a lawyer and activist representing the victims. Police, however, say they have recovered only 50 video clips and found evidence of 30 victims—claims denied by media and activists who have demanded an impartial probe.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed the Home Department to seek a judicial inquiry into the ongoing case. “Culprits involved in this crime will not be spared and the government will take every step to provide justice to the victim families,” his office claimed in a statement. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also directed the Punjab government to arrest all accused and bring them before a court of law.
“We have recovered video clips from mobile phones confiscated from the accused, and have also confiscated memory cards and computers from the house allegedly used by the rapists,” said Ghulam Abbas, the head of the police investigation unit in Kasur. According to Abbas, initial investigations had proven that some of the accused had sexually assaulted teenage boys and girls. However, he added, police were also investigating a few cases in which the videos appeared to show consensual sex.
“Aamir, the main accused, owns an old bungalow on the outskirts of Hussain Khanwala village and appears to have shot most of the videos there,” said Abbas. “There are also some clips in a classroom and a few that show a farmhouse.”
Rai Babar Saeed, district police chief, told a press conference that police had already arrested seven men, including the main accused, who had confessed to his crimes. “Aamir, Hasib, Tasleem, Faizan, Bisharat, Waseem and Usman were the main accused in this case, while five others got pre-arrest bail,” he said, adding that they were investigating whether some of the victims had engaged in consensual sex or been victims of sexual abuse. “A few clips show no evidence of resistance,” he said. “All the accused currently in custody can easily be identified in the videos. Some of them are believed to be rapists, but others were taken into custody because they committed sodomy—there is no resistance in the videos [of them] we have found,” he claimed.
Under Pakistani law, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” is deemed a criminal offense, punishable with a possible prison term or a fine.
Mohammad Afzal, a local journalist who claims to have reported on this case in 2012, backs the police claims that some of the videos are consensual. “Some of the men seen in these videos are friends with the alleged victims,” he claims. “They used these videos to make sure no one could blackmail each other.”
According to Afzal, the trend of making sex videos among men and women in their late teens and early 20s was widespread in the region. “Its not just Hussain Khanwala village… it’s also happening in Rasool Nagar, Khodian and nearby regions,” he claimed.
The mother of one of the women identified as a consensual participant by police claimed to Newsweek that her daughter had been raped. “She told me she was raped [by the accused] who filmed the whole ordeal,” she said. “An unknown number forwarded the video to me in July and warned me that they would release it to the entire country if I informed the police,” she added.
Police claim the video shows the woman offering no resistance, and allege that it might not be rape. The mother vehemently disagrees. “I saw the clip and my daughter was being raped,” she says. “I decided to report the matter to the police, but they told me to question my daughter and make sure she hadn’t been a willing participant,” she said, adding that she believes police refused to listen to her because they were being pressured by one of the participants.
Abdul Razaq, the father of a male victim police claim was a willing participant of sodomy, also maintains that his son was raped. “I reported the video to police in July, which is when my son told me what had happened and said the culprits had warned him to stay quiet or they would release the video and kill him,” he said. “Why are police not stopping criminals from doing this to our children instead of waiting for the media to pressure them into action?”
Usman Akram, another victim’s father, merely hoped the government would deliver on its promise to arrest all the accused. “I cannot even discuss this matter with my family. My honor has been taken away… we never even thought this could happen to us in an Islamic country.”
On Saturday, Punjab police claimed to have taken six men into custody over filming pornographic videos of children. “There were seven or eight complaints from Hussain Khanwala village of Kasur district alleging some men had sexually abused underage children and taped them to blackmail the parents,” confirmed local police officer Sahibzada Sultan Shehzad.
He alleged that the case was linked to a land dispute case. “In 2009, land mafia groups Shirazi and Master Zafar attempted to take control of 19 acres of land owned by the Government of Pakistan,” he claimed. “During this time, the Shirazi Group allegedly used the property to molest and rape children and taped their criminal activities to blackmail the parents of the victims,” he said, adding that children often use the land to play sports, making it easier for the criminals to prey on them.
According to Shehzad, none of the parents registered any complaints before July 2015. “We sought out anyone who would be willing to testify against the gang, but no one came forward before now,” he added.
Some local villagers have claimed that the gang responsible for the pedophilic videos stopped its activities in 2013 after police took action. “A local leader of the opposition PTI convinced the parents to seek justice now—because he wanted his party to profit in the local body elections,” claimed one man. “They did not care about the victims… only their own gains.”
Another local, Sharafat Ali, said many of the children had been unaware they were being sexually abused. “The ones who knew were terrified of sharing it with their families,” he added.
“The parents decided to approach police last month because that’s when one of the children finally opened up to his parents,” he said. “After that, the villagers discussed the horror among themselves and found that some parents had also been blackmailed by the same culprits.” The villagers then started protesting against the rapists and demanded police register cases against them but experienced resistance. “This angered us even more… but police then told us they had arrested six of the accused.”