HUSSAIN KHANWALA: Pakistani police arrested five more people Monday over a major child sex abuse scandal after a lawyer for the victims accused them of protecting culprits, while activists said the case was just the tip of the iceberg.
At least 280 children were filmed being sexually abused by a gang of 25 men who used the hundreds of videos they produced to blackmail the youngsters’ parents, according to Latif Ahmed Sara, a lawyer and activist representing the victims.
The case has provoked expressions of outrage in Pakistani newspapers, several of which have suggested a politically-influenced cover up.
The village at the heart of the scandal, Hussain Khanwala, lies in the Punjab stronghold of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party.
Sara accused the police of dragging their feet, as some of the videos date back to 2007.
“The police are protecting the criminals, they are supporting them and have provided them an opportunity to escape the village,” the lawyer told reporters.
Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province where the abuse took place, has ordered an independent judicial inquiry and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed stern action against those responsible.
On Monday Pakistan’s upper and lower houses of parliament passed unanimous resolutions condemning the abuse and demanding exemplary punishment for the culprits.
The Lahore High Court, however, declined the chief minister’s request, saying police should continue their investigation.
“The judicial inquiry is required where facts are hidden, in this case police are already investigating and some of the accused have already been arrested,” court spokesman Arif Javed told AFP.
The total number of suspects in custody stands at 12 following Monday’s arrests.
An initial police probe, carried out last week at the behest of the provincial government, described the allegations as “baseless”, a conclusion immediately rejected by local media and rights activists.
The head of Punjab’s Child Protection Bureau, Saba Sadiq, described the case as “the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history”.
The abusers allegedly tried to extort money from parents of victims, selling clips of the videos locally for 40 Pakistan rupees each (around 40 US cents) if they did not pay up.