June 27, 2005

Rape victim takes case to Pakistan’s Supreme Court

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani woman gang raped in 2002on the orders of a village council said on Monday she hoped thecountry's Supreme Court would reimpose death sentences on themen who attacked her.

The Supreme Court began hearing an appeal by the woman,Mukhtaran Mai, against the acquittal of five of six menconvicted in the assault.

"I expect the same decision as was given by the specialcourt," Mai told reporters in the Supreme Court before thesession began, referring to the conviction of the men.

Six men were originally convicted of the crime andsentenced to death, but five were later acquitted afterappealing to a high court in Punjab province, which cited alack of evidence. A sixth had his death sentence commuted tolife imprisonment.

Mai, 33, was gang-raped on the orders of a traditionalvillage council after her brother -- who was 12 at the time --was judged to have offended the honor of a powerful clan bybefriending a woman from the tribe.

Feudal and tribal laws still hold sway in many rural partsof predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

The rape provoked a national outcry and focusedinternational attention on the treatment of women in ruralPakistan.

The Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad, was crowdedwith Mai's supporters including members of non-governmentalorganizations. Several foreigners were also in attendance.

Clad in traditional shalwar kameez baggy shirt and trousersand with a pink shawl over her head, a frail-looking Mai satquietly in the court throughout the session.


Mai's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said he believed that there was"substantial evidence" to corrorborate the crime against theaccused.

"Our case is that the high court in acquitting hasmisappreciated and misread the evidence," Ahsan told reportersat the end of Monday's session.

"We feel we have a strong case," he said.

"We do not want the matter to be prolonged ... we want theSupreme Court to reappraise the evidence and give the judgmenton the basis of that."

The three-judge Supreme Court bench discussed proceduralissues on Monday before adjourning the session. The hearingwill resume on Tuesday.

The six convicted men, and another six men who served onthe village council and were detained, were ordered released bythe Punjab high court this month although they remain indetention.

Human rights workers had wanted Mai to go abroad to speakon the plight of women but the government, saying it was actingin the interests of her security, recently banned her fromoverseas travel.

Following protests from various quarters, including theU.S. government, the ban was lifted but her passport was notimmediately returned.

Mai said on Monday she had got her passport back though shehad no immediate plan to travel because she wanted to see herappeal finished first.

A State Department spokesman said last week Secretary ofState Condoleezza Rice raised the matter of Mai's freedom totravel with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed MehmoodKasuri.

President Pervez Musharraf, who has been trying to projectPakistan as a moderate and progressive Muslim nation, has takena personal interest Mai's case, saying it was tarnishing thecountry's image overseas.