The alleged gang rape of a woman in a park in Pakistan has enraged women’s rights activists who are protesting against what they see as “increasing sexual barbarism” in the country.
The woman, 24, was with a male colleague in the capital Islamabad’s Fatima Jinnah park – known locally as F9 park and the largest in the city – last Thursday when they were allegedly attacked by two armed men, according to a statement she filed with the police, seen by CNN.
The woman alleged the men forced the pair toward a “jungle area” of the park where they ripped off her clothes and raped her.
She said the men told her she should not have been in the park at night and asked about her connection to her colleague.
“When I responded, I was slapped. My hair was pulled and I was thrown on the floor,” the woman said in her police statement.
The incident has sparked outrage in the country of 220 million, which is highly patriarchal and where violent attacks against women and girls frequently make headlines.
Scores of protesters have tied their dupattas – scarves worn by South Asian women – to the railings of the park, alongside messages imploring change.
“Please don’t let another sister suffer,” one note read. “Save the women and kids of Pakistan,” read another.
The rights group, Aurat Azadi March (Women’s Freedom March), said in a statement, “There is an increasing sexual barbarism in Pakistan, and criminal silence on it by the state and society is unacceptable.”
“We are enraged. We are in pain. And we will not let this be forgotten.”
A spokesperson for Islamabad police told CNN no arrests had been made in the case so far.
Fatima Jinnah park is a sprawling oasis spread across the center of Islamabad in an affluent part of the city, and has a high security presence. It is often likened to New York’s Central Park as families often gather for festivals and children play at the park throughout the day.
The government on Sunday ordered domestic television channels not to report on the alleged assault, citing the need to protect the woman’s identity.
In a statement, Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said any broadcast of news reports was “prohibited with immediate effect.”
More than 5,200 women reported being raped in the country in 2021, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, but experts believe the actual number is much higher as many women are afraid to come forward due to social stigma and victim blaming.
Fewer than 3% of sexual assault or rape cases result in a conviction in Pakistan, Reuters reported in December 2020, citing Karachi-based non-profit War Against Rape.
In December 2020, Pakistan toughened its rape laws to create special courts to try cases within four months and provide medical examinations to women within six hours of a complaint being made. But activists say Pakistan continues to fail its women and does not have a nationwide law criminalizing domestic violence, leaving many vulnerable to assault.
In 2021, the beheading of Noor Mukadam, a Pakistani ambassador’s daughter, sent shockwaves through the country with protesters calling on the government to do more to protect women.
Her killer, Zahir Jaffer, the 30-year-old son of an influential family and a dual Pakistan-US national who knew Mukadam, was sentenced to death by an Islamabad judge last February.