Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has drawn intense criticism after he blamed a rise in sexual assault cases on how women dress, AFP reported.

On Tuesday, during a live television interview, Khan had advised women to cover up to prevent temptation. He claimed that an increase in rape cases was among “consequences in any society where vulgarity is on the rise”.

The Pakistani leader was responding to a question about the steps taken by his government to prevent rape and sexual assault cases. After denouncing crimes against women and children, he said that sexual violence was a result of “increasing obscenity”, adding it was a product of Bollywood, Hollywood and the West, reported the BBC.

“This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it,” he said, using a term that can refer to modest dress. “The incidents of rape of women... [have] actually very rapidly increased in society.”

His comments have sparked outrage, and hundreds of people have signed a statement demanding an apology from Khan for his regressive views. The signatories said that prime minister’s comments were “factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous”.

“Fault rests solely with the rapist and the system that enables the rapist, including a culture fostered by statements such as those made by [Khan],” the statement said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights watchdog, said it was appalled by the comments. “Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honour crimes,” it said.

The Karachi chapter of the Women’s Action Forum called on Khan to apologise for his “callous and damaging remarks”.

The group wrote, “Rape is perpetrated by rapists and it’s culture is strengthened by rape apologists. Imran Khan must apologise for this callous and damaging remarks and desist from blaming the victims.”

Khan’s ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith too expressed her shock at the Pakistani leader’s statements, saying she was hoping that this was a “misquote/mistranslation”. “The Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes not on the woman,’” she added.

Goldsmith went on to quote a verse [24:30] from the Quran: “Say to the believing ‘men’ that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.”

“The onus is on men,” she added as a way of explanation.

Journalist Zahid Hussain wrote in his column in Pakistan daily Dawn, “Imran Khan’s views on rape are not very different from the callous comments made by a former Lahore police chief about the Motorway gang rape last year. He blamed the victim for driving late at night. His comments reflected the thinking of a large segment of society that prefers to blame the victim.”

Protests jolted Pakistan last year after a woman was gangraped in front of her two children on September 11 by the side of a motorway in Lahore. The woman was driving a car with her children, when it broke down on the motorway as it ran out of fuel. She called the police and waited. However, at least two men allegedly broke the windows of her car, dragged her and her two children out of the vehicle and raped her repeatedly.

The case had sparked massive protests, with women taking to the streets to voice their anger and demand change.