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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 18:09 GMT
Acquittals in Pakistan gang rape
Mukhtar Mai
Mukhtar Mai said 150 men ignored her pleas for mercy
Five men sentenced to death in a high-profile gang-rape case in the Pakistani province of Punjab have been acquitted on appeal.

Judges in Lahore said there was insufficient evidence. A sixth man had his sentence commuted to life in jail.

A Pakistani tribal council allegedly ordered the rape of Mukhtar Mai in February 2002 as punishment for a rape falsely attributed to her brother.

The case shocked rights groups in Pakistan and overseas.

'Justice done'

The two judges of the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court criticised faulty procedures in the police investigation of the alleged rape.

I will go to appeal. I will go anywhere, wherever is necessary... to get my right
Mukhtar Mai

A total of 14 men originally stood trial in a special anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan in August 2002 but only six of them were convicted - four alleged rapists and two panchayat (tribal council) members.

Defence lawyer Mohammad Salim said: "Justice has been done. The verdict of the anti-terrorism court in August 2002 was largely influenced by media hype and government pressure."

Ms Mai broke down on hearing the appeal verdict.

"I will go to appeal. I will go anywhere, wherever is necessary... to get my right," she told the Reuters news agency.

Human rights lawyer, Hina Jilani, said there should have been a retrial.

"It was much more desirable to ensure that justice is done to the victim and the impunity that prevails in the country with regard to how gang rape cases are dealt with," she said.

Schools built

The panchayat in Meerwala, southern Punjab, had found Ms Mai's younger brother, Shakoor, guilty of raping a girl from the village's powerful Mastoi clan.

It was later revealed in a conventional court that the 12-year-old had in fact been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by the same men who later made up his jury.

Mukhtar Mai spent compensation money on building schools

It was alleged that Ms Mai was then taken away to be raped in revenge for her brother's supposed crime.

None of the 150 men present responded to her pleas for mercy, she said.

Ms Mai became famous after the rape for human rights work and pursuing the case through the courts, although she said she faced threats from her alleged attackers' supporters.

She built two schools in her village with the $9,400 compensation money she was awarded.

"Education will play a very, very important role in changing the minds of men. Without these schools, my life would be nothing," she told the BBC news website last year.

"Even if I don't succeed in my struggle," she says, "I'll keep trying until my death."

Tribal courts are effectively the only system of justice in many rural areas of Pakistan, traditionally relying on resolving disputes between whole families.

Women often suffer "honour punishments" to pay for crimes attributed to relatives.

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