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Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 04:57 GMT 05:57 UK
Death sentences for gang rape
The victim of alleged gang rape (left) with mother
Activists say the case highlights cruel customs
A special court in Pakistan has found six men guilty of their part in the gang-rape of a woman - a case which has provoked national outrage.

All six - including two men from a self-appointed tribal council in a remote part of Punjab province - have been sentenced to death by hanging.

Defence lawyers said they would appeal against the guilty verdict.

Human rights activists in Pakistan have expressed satisfaction with the conviction, but say the government must now act on the issues brought up by this case.

Eight other men who were accused of abetting the rape of 30-year-old Mukhtar Mai in June were acquitted.

The rape was ordered by a tribal "panchyat" or council in the village of Mirwali, near Muzaffargarh city, to punish Mukhtar Mai's family after her brother was accused of having an illicit affair with a woman from a more powerful tribe.

In many of Pakistan's remote areas, tribal councils, made up of community elders, still work like a lawful body, judging cases ranging from animal theft or tribal rivalry to murder.

Mukhtar Mai's brother, Abdul Shakoor, said the story of his affair was concocted to cover up the fact that he had been sodomised by three men earlier in the day and threatened to report the incident.

National outrage

Mukhtar Mai testified that when she apologised to the council, one man said she should be pardoned but another immediately insisted that she should be raped.

She described begging the council to save her, but they took no notice and four men raped her while hundreds of villagers did nothing to stop the assault.

Afterwards, she said she was forced to walk home half-naked in full public view, covered only with a piece of cloth.

However the police took no action until a case was registered a week after the rape.

The role played in the incident the village council, which has no legal standing, has raised particular concerns.

A spokesman for the human rights commission said the government had allowed this kind of informal justice system to flourish throughout the country and it needed to be immediately controlled.

Activists also say this case illustrates the horrific abuse many women face in Pakistan, with most of them never seeing their attackers brought to justice.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad says the widespread publicity surrounding this case ensured it was brought before an anti-terrorism court, which dealt with it relatively quickly.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The crime has caused outrage in Pakistan"
See also:

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