Pakistani police say they have arrested one of the two suspects in the rape of a woman who was pulled from her car and attacked after her car broke down on a deserted highway in the central province of Punjab.
The woman, who police say is in her early 30s, was driving late Wednesday night in front of the eastern city of Lahore with her two children when her car ran out of fuel.
She called the police for help, but before they arrived, two men took her and her children out of the vehicle with a weapon and raped her in a field on the highway.
The suspects are also accused of stealing money and jewelry from the woman before fleeing.
Punjab police chief Atif Nazir said on Sunday that the arrest of one of the men was made after tracking phone records and gathering forensic evidence from the scene.
Nazeer said the suspect denied involvement in the rape. Local media reported that the suspect turned himself in to police to plead his innocence.
The arrest came after protests continued in Pakistan for a second day on Saturday over an investigation into the attack.
Inam Ghani, the inspector general of the Punjab province, told reporters on Saturday night that police had identified the two suspects by DNA tracking.
“I hope to contact them very soon and arrest them,”
Musarat Chiema, a spokesman in the eastern province of Punjab, said raids were under way to find the culprits.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office said the protection of women was the government’s first priority and responsibility, adding that “such brutality and atrocities cannot be allowed in any civilized society.”
But protesters were unhappy and called for the dismissal of the leading police investigator appointed in the case, Omar Sheikh, who reportedly indicated what he thought the victim had done wrong.
The sheikh reportedly said the woman had to take another, busier highway, not travel at night, and make sure her car had enough fuel.
He also said she seems to have the impression that Pakistan is as safe for women as France, “her country of residence”. Requests for comment from the French embassy in Islamabad went unanswered
Several hundred protesters gathered in Islamabad, some waving French flags and others holding signs reading “hang the rapists.”
“It’s very simple, such incidents are not very new. The point is that instead of catching criminals or catching perpetrators, we always blame the victims,” Aleena Alvi said.
“I think the laws have also changed around rape victims, there was a law to protect women, instead of this act, now there was no protection that was given to victims.”
Hundreds, mostly women, also gathered in Lahore, Karachi and the northwestern city of Peshawar. “Break the silence, stop the violence,” read a poster in Peshawar.
Global rights monitors said Pakistan had not done enough to stop violence against women, including ensuring that perpetrators were held accountable.
The attack has angered women, who say the country’s public space is already limited.
“And now the police are telling you that you are responsible for your own safety,” Yamna Rehman said at a protest in Islamabad organized by the Democratic Women’s Front.