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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Protests over Pakistan gang rape
The victim of alleged gang rape (left) with mother
Activists say the case highglights cruel customs

Human rights organisations have strongly protested against the gang rape of a teenage Pakistani girl carried out as a "punishment" on the orders of a tribal council.

A tribal "panchyat" or council ordered the rape of the 18-year-old girl in a remote village, Mirwali, near the city of Muzaffargarh in Punjab province, some 600 kilometres south west of Islamabad, because her brother had an alleged affair with a woman of another tribe.

Human rights activists and local police officials say the incident took place in the last week of June when four men raped the girl inside a room and then sent her home naked before hundreds of villagers.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sheikh Riaz Ahmed, has ordered the police chief of Punjab to appear before the Supreme Court, along with other senior provincial officials, in connection with the incident.

Tribal areas

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.

Some of the accused in custody
Clan influence remains high in rural Pakistan

The rape was to avenge the "insult" caused to a family of the Mastoi tribe by the girl's 13-year-old brother's alleged "illicit affair" with a woman from that family.

The Mastoi are considered by locals as a tribe of higher social standing than that of the victim and her brother, who are from the Gujjar tribe.

Local police officials say they were informed about the public gang rape several days after the incident.

The incident has outraged human rights and women's organisations.

"It is barbaric. It is like living in the dark ages," says Rashid Rehman, a human rights activist.

"These tribal customs are powerful here. Whosoever within the community opposes or raises a voice is declared social outcast. The girl's family is shattered. The girl now will be treated as a leper by the community members," Rehman says.

Women's rights activists condemned the incident and demanded the government take stern action against the "culprits."

The governor of Punjab province has sent two ministers to the area to supervise an investigation into the reported rape.

Local police have arrested a few people including members of the tribal council, and the alleged rapists.

A question of 'honour'

There have been isolated incidents of public stripping and rape of women before but this is the first time that it has been carried out under the decree of a tribal council.

The brother whose reported affair with a girl from a 'higher' clan led to the gang rape
Activists say they face a difficult and daunting task

"Such a decree issued by a tribal council and carried out with impunity is not only a monumental crime and violation of the rights of the girl, but also an outrage for society and an affront to the state of Pakistan," says the Alliance against Discriminatory Laws, a women's group.

Women's rights organisations believe that there is institutionalised repression of women in Pakistan.

Hundreds of women have been murdered in traditional honour killings with women being marked for death on suspicions of adultery.

"We must condemn institutional acceptance of women symbolising honour and the routine rape and killing of women being carried out to dishonour or restore honour of families, and institutionalised violence" says Dr Fouzia Saeed, a well-known human rights activist.

Activists have been battling such "cruel and harsh" customs and traditions for years, but they say to empower women within such a society remains a difficult and daunting task.

See also:

02 Jul 02 | South Asia
28 May 02 | South Asia
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02 May 02 | Country profiles
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