LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police said they detained 15 people for questioning on Thursday, after two armed men allegedly gang raped a woman in front of her children after her car broke down on a deserted highway.
The arrests followed the overnight incident near the eastern city of Lahore in which the two men are said to have also stolen cash and jewelry from the woman before fleeing the scene. None of the 15 was thought to be an assailant, police said.
The police said the woman had locked her car doors when she ran out of fuel but the attackers broke a car window and dragged her outside where they raped her before her terrified children.
The attack quickly drew widespread condemnation on social media, with some activists demanding that those involved be hanged in public.
But in a shocking televised statement, recently appointed Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh blamed the victim for traveling alone with her two children after midnight without checking whether her car had enough fuel. His comment drew nationwide condemnation, although he also vowed to arrest the rapists within 48 hours.
Musarrat Cheema, a spokesperson in the eastern Punjab province, said raids were being conducted to find the culprits.
Prime Minister Imran Khan office said protection of women is a first priority and responsibility of the government, adding that “such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilized society. Such incidents are a violation of our social values and a disgrace to society.”
Human rights activists urged the government to fire Sheikh, the police chief, for his remarks.
Gang rape is rare in Pakistan, although sexual harassment and violence against women is not uncommon. Nearly 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings” for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage.