ISLAMABAD -- Protests were held in Islamabad and other cities across Pakistan amid national outrage over the alleged gang rape of a woman in front of her children.
Dozens of women affiliated with the women’s wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party gathered in front of the National Press Club building in the capital on September 11, chanting slogans calling for the execution of rapists.
Rape is not punishable by the death penalty under Pakistani law.
Pakistani authorities say they have detained 14 people for questioning after two armed men allegedly gang-raped a woman in front of her children after her car stalled on a highway.
In the incident near the eastern city of Lahore on the night of September 9, two armed men allegedly gang-raped the woman after her car ran out of fuel on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway.
The assailants also stole cash and jewelry from the mother before fleeing the scene, police said.
Authorities say they have detained 14 suspects for questioning and conducted DNA tests of seven suspects.
News of the assault immediately drew widespread condemnation on social media, including from officials and politicians.
Anger only grew after Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh seemed to blame the victim, a Pakistani citizen said to be a resident of France, because she was driving at night without a male companion.
Sheikh told the media that no one in Pakistani society would "allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late.”
The officer went on to say that the woman probably "mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe" as France.
The police chief also said that the victim should have opted for a less deserted road, and that she ought to have checked the level of fuel in her car.
The comments prompted calls for his removal among politicians, rights activists, and others.
Describing the remarks as “unacceptable,” Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted: "Nothing can ever rationalize the crime of rape. That's it."
Sheikh’s office said his comments had been “misunderstood.”
“He said that the woman left her house with her children thinking Pakistan was France. Because in France, there is writ of state, there are moral values, citizens are provided protection, there is rule of law,” the statement said.
Gang rape is relatively rare in Pakistan, although sexual harassment and violence against women is not uncommon.
Hundreds of women are killed every year in Pakistan in so-called honor killings for violating conservative Pakistani traditions on love, marriage, and public behavior.