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Pakistan court acquits suspects in high-profile rape case

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 21 Apr 2011 10:50 AM
Author: Reuters
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* Rape victim became a human rights campaigner

* Human rights organisations express dismay

By Asim Tanveer

MULTAN, Pakistan, April 21 (Reuters) - A Pakistani victim of a village council-sanctioned gang-rape, who became a symbol of the country's oppressed women, said on Thursday her life was in danger after the Supreme Court acquitted 13 men accused of the crime.

Mukhtaran Mai was attacked on the orders of a village council in 2002 as a punishment because her brother -- who was 12 at the time -- was judged to have offended the honour of a powerful clan by allegedly having an affair with one of its women.

Mai was an illiterate villager at the time but she defied taboos and shot to global fame by speaking out about her ordeal and taking her attackers to court.

Mai had accused 14 men of being involved in raping her and in 2002, a court sentenced six of them to death while acquitting the others citing a lack of evidence.

But in an appeal, the Lahore High Court not only upheld the eight acquittals but also overturned five of the six convictions. The death penalty for the sixth man, Abdul Khaliq, was commuted to life in prison.

Mai appealed to the Supreme Court in 2005 but it rejected her appeal on Thursday, said Gohar Ali Shah, a lawyer for Mai.

"I'm disappointed. Why was I made to wait for five years if this decision was to be given?" a sobbing Mai told Reuters by telephone from her village in the eastern province of Punjab shortly after the court announced the decision.

"The accused can kill me and my family when they return home," Mai said.

Her courage in defying centuries-old rural customs of repressing women won her human rights awards and made her a role model for many women in Pakistan.

She is running a school for girls in her village with donations from the government and supporters at home and abroad.

Mai said she would neither flee her village nor the country.

"Life and death are in the hands of Allah ... I will not shut my school and other projects," she said.

The group Human Rights Watch expressed dismay at the court decision, saying the attack on Mai was a "crime that took place in full public view and the perpetrators were publicly identified".

"Today's verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the Mukhtaran Mai case reflects poorly on the Supreme Court," said Ali Dayan Hasan of the U.S.-based rights group.

He said Human Rights Watch was particularly concerned about Mai's safety and called upon on the government to ensure her protection.

"This is a setback for Mukhtaran Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women and the cause of an independent, rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan."

Mai said the 14 men involved in her rape were: Faiz Bukhsh Mastoi, Ramzan Pachar, Ghulam Fareed Mastoi, Allah Ditta Mastoi, Hazoor Bakhsh, two men both named Fayyaz Hussain, Aslam, Nazar Hussain, Ghulam Qasim, Hafiz Rasool Bakhsh, Ghulam Hussain, Mohammad Khalil and Abdul Khaliq. (Additional reporting and writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Robert Birsel)

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