LAHORE: Pakistan police have arrested the main accused and four other suspects in the country's biggest child abuse scandal in a village in Punjab bordering India, taking the total number of arrests in the case to 11, even as victims' families accused police of protecting the culprits.
At least 280 children were filmed being sexually abused by a gang who used the hundreds of videos they produced to blackmail their parents in Ganda Singh village in Kasur district, some 50 kilometres from here.
Kasur Police chief Rai Babar told reporters today that the prime accused, Hasib Aamir, was arrested yesterday and he had confessed to his crime.
"The accused confessed to have committed sexual assault on a number of children and blackmailed their parents," Babar said, adding police have also arrested another two accused named in the FIR.
Following the surfacing of the scandal early last month, police had registered criminal cases against 15 suspects of 'the gang' under sodomy and extortion charges. Eleven suspects have been arrested so far. Hasib, however, told media at Kasur police station that he only filmed the crime. "I only used to film the crime but I never took part in it," he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed strong resentment over the incident and vowed stern action against those responsible.
He said the culprits behind the incident would be taken to task with "exemplary punishment". Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, where the abuse took place, has ordered setting up of a judicial commission comprising judges of superior court to investigate the matter.
The head of Punjab's Child Protection Bureau, Saba Sadiq, described the case as "the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan's history". Meanwhile, an 18-year-old student in Lahore also filed a complaint with the police, alleging that when he was nine-year-old, Hasib and other accused lured him to their place and sodomised him.
The victim children's family alleged that police are protecting the criminals and have provided them an opportunity to escape the village. A number of civil society members and opposition leaders visited the village and demanded exemplary punishment for the culprits.
Last month, police registered cases against the suspects after a large number of villagers surrounded the houses of the suspects and threatened to torch them. According to the FIRs, the influential suspects used to record videos while sodomising young boys and raping girls. The gang allegedly attempted to extort money as well as gold jewellery from the parents of victims, selling clips of the videos locally if they did not pay up.