Calls for judicial probe into university sex, drug scandal

A huge outcry over allegations of extensive sexual abuse and harassment of female students and drug peddling at Pakistan’s Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB) in Punjab province has led to calls in the Pakistan parliament for a judicial investigation. Swift action is demanded amid fears the matter could impact on female enrolment in universities in Pakistan.

On 3 August, the Senate Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training said it would follow up on calls to set up a judicial commission to probe the on-campus sale of drugs and sexual videos.

The alleged revelations at one of the country’s oldest universities, which has some 65,000 students, surfaced on 21 July, sending shockwaves across the country as over 400 obscene videos of female students were allegedly found on the cell phones of the university’s chief security officer last month.

Drugs, including crystal methamphetamine and aphrodisiacs, were also recovered from the arrested official, according to police.

The university’s new Vice-Chancellor Naveed Akhtar, confirmed to the standing committee chaired by Senator Irfan Siddiqui, the existence of objectionable videos of female students and university employees, and the involvement of a senior professor.

Police arrested the university’s chief security officer Ijaz Husain Shah, Professor of Management Sciences Abubakar, who is currently treasurer of the university and has previously held other administrative posts, and transport officer Muhammad Altaf on charges of drug peddling and sexual harassment activities on the campus.

The arrests were made after Shah was stopped in his car at a police checkpoint. According to police, the person in the car unsuccessfully attempted to flee, and when police searched the vehicle, they found drugs and his mobile phone with a gallery of obscene videos. The police later maintained the videos were of female students at the university and involved university officials and persons from outside the university.

The police’s First Investigation Report states: “We found crystal methamphetamine (ice) and aphrodisiacs in their possession and found a significant number of objectionable videos involving university officials and students on two cell phone sets.”

The report also states: “The arrested suspects confessed to using and selling drugs and admitted that the objectionable images and videos on their mobile phones were of officials from various departments of the university and the female students.”

University spokesperson denies charges

IUB’s management did not respond to media queries, but earlier on 22 July, the university’s legal advisor, Farooq Bashir, told the BBC Urdu the entire scandal was fictitious, concocted and void of any truth and termed it “a media trial” of the university.

“It is a private sector mafia working against this prestigious institution which has an outstanding academic record,” Bashir told the Urdu service. He insisted sexual harassment and drug abuse were not tolerated in the university.

Bashir attempted to cast doubt on the existence of the videos recovered by police from the phone of the university official in their custody, claiming there was “no such thing”.

The BBC report said some parents were already preventing their daughters from attending the university, while students feared the possible emergence online of the videos.

Police said apart from those named, more university staff, including teachers, participated in making the videos, and had blackmailed and harassed students for further exploitation, as well as being involved in selling drugs.

Call for judicial probe

Although the university formed an investigation committee after suspending the three arrested officials, the serious nature of the police revelations prompted the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to form a five-member fact-finding committee on 28 July.

HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed told University World News: “This is also shocking for us. We have constituted a fact-finding committee to ascertain the truth. There will be no leniency and all those found involved in this heinous crime will be awarded exemplary punishment.”

Ahmed said the HEC committee will not only conduct an investigation but will also recommend measures to prevent future incidents of sexual harassment in other universities.

Chief Minister of Punjab Mohsin Naqvi formed a committee on 24 July, just days after the scandal surfaced. However, the intensity of the public reaction and slow progress of various committees led Naqvi to request the high court to form a judicial commission.

The court, however, has yet not announced a judicial commission and responded to the Punjab provincial government’s request with an instruction to follow the required procedure of initiating the request from the Bahawalpur Bench of the Lahore High Court.

A ‘timely’ retirement

Athar Qazi Mahboob who until recently was vice-chancellor of IUB, vacated the post a couple of days after the news of the scandal broke. He maintains he retired “on time”, but on 2 August, while attempting to fly to the United States, Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency immigration officials offloaded him from his US-bound flight at Karachi Airport and stopped him from leaving the country until investigations into the IUB case are completed.

Unconfirmed media reports have suggested the Intelligence Bureau had informed Usman Buzdar, a former Punjab chief minister during the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), of the incidents on the university campus. However, the then chief minister did not take any action, allegedly because of the involvement of ‘influential’ persons.

Last week, investigative journalist Iqrarul Hassan said on his personal vlog, that the son of a former ally of the previous Punjab government, Tariq Bashir Cheema, may also be involved.

As the allegations by Iqrarul Hassan went viral on the internet, Cheema, currently Minister of National Food Security and Research in the central government, which ends its term in mid-August, held a press conference on 30 July to rebut the journalist’s claims, insisting his son Wali Dad Cheema, who will be a candidate for a National Assembly seat in the upcoming elections, was innocent. His son was also present at the press conference, though he did not speak.

The minister earlier said: “We are ready to appear in front of every committee” and backed a judicial investigation.

But according to a report by the Urdu-language television channel Aaj News, a briefing by the fact-finding committee of the new caretaker Punjab government to the chief minister discussed Wali Dad Cheema’s alleged involvement in the scandal.

Supreme court petition

Apart from the inquiries by the HEC, the university vice-chancellor, the Punjab government, and the Punjab government’s Higher Education Department, the case has also reached the Pakistan Supreme Court via a petition filed by a lawyer Zulfiqar Bhatta which requests the land’s highest court to order a speedy completion of all inquiries and to issue a directive to stop the spread of any obscene videos on social media.

The petition states: “The alleged video clips are being made public by unrelated persons; hence their sharing should be stopped so that students are not blackmailed, as sharing the alleged videos of students may also endanger their lives.” It added: “A transparent investigation is not possible due to the interference of political persons.”

The petitioner requested that the top court order the inquiries to be completed within two weeks.

Niaz Ahmad Akhtar, vice-chancellor of Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, told University World News: “There are many committees investigating this scandal of drugs and sexual abuse and harassment … There is an urgent need to merge all these committees which should assist a judicial commission comprised of honorable judges of the high court.”

Akhtar said: “This should be done on an urgent basis as a delay in finding the truth and punishing those responsible is causing huge damage to the reputation of universities of the country. Any further delay in concluding this case will discourage female enrolment in the universities and cause a severe blow to female higher education in the country.”

Although anti-harassment committees exist within universities, Punjab Chief Minister Naqvi has called for a provincial level anti-harassment committee to be set up overseeing all universities, to be based in the provincial capital Lahore.

Academics and civil society have also demanded a thorough combining of all public and private sector universities to root out on-campus drug peddling.

Professor Dr Muhammad Ali, vice-chancellor of Bahauddin Zakariya University of Multan, told University World News: “There is an urgent need to put a system in place to check the use of drugs in universities. Drug peddlers are destroying the younger generation. The government, law enforcers and management of the universities need to work together to uproot this menace from campuses.”

Islamia University was founded in 1925 as Jamia Abbasia University in the princely state of Bahawalpur which acceded to Pakistan in 1947. The university was named Islamia University in 1963 and then as Islamia University of Bahawalpur in 1975 under a new act that awarded it chartered status.