Pakistan court acquits five gang-rape suspects
Men accused of attack ordered by tribal council
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday acquitted and freed five men accused of gang-raping a village woman in 2002 on the orders of a tribal council. The case received worldwide attention, and the victim, Mukhtar Mai, became an international icon of women’s rights.
The court ruling, which upheld an appeals court decision exonerating the men, left only one of Mai’s 14 alleged attackers in prison, with a life sentence. Eight were freed in an earlier ruling, and the appeals court found there was insufficient evidence against the other five.
Women’s groups and human rights monitors in Pakistan called the high court verdict a travesty of justice and said it showed that the country’s judicial system is patriarchal and prejudiced against women.
“This is a setback for Mukhtar Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women, and the cause of an independent rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan,’’ said Ali Dayan Hasan, a representative of Human Rights Watch who is based in Karachi.
In June 2002, a village council ordered Mai, then 33, to be gang-raped in retaliation for an alleged romantic relationship between her 13-year-old brother and a woman from another tribe. The police arrested 14 village men after the case drew media attention.
Mai, who is now 42 and runs a girls’ school in her village in southern Punjab, told Geo television yesterday that she feared for her life after the verdict but would not halt her struggle for women’s rights in Pakistani society.
“This is not justice that I received today, but I have faith in God and . . . I believe he will give me justice,’’ she said. She appealed to the government to take measures to protect her but said she had not decided whether to take any further legal action.
Mai’s case, which shocked the world nine years ago, revealed the cruel side of Pakistan’s traditional tribal culture, in which women are often punished or sold as brides to compensate for the perceived sins of their relatives.