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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March, 2005, 12:47 GMT
Anger at Pakistan rape acquittals
Mukhtar Mai
Rights activists fear Ms Mai's guards may be withdrawn
The acquittal of five men convicted in a high-profile gang-rape case in the Pakistani province of Punjab has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups.

Women's organisations have described the acquittals as "shocking and unbelievable".

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

Six men were convicted of Ms Mai's rape five of whom have now been set free.

Security concerns

"We are all in a state of shock. This was such a well-known case that we couldn't imagine such a thing would happen," Farzana Bari, director of the Centre for Excellence in Gender Studies at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad told BBC News Online.

We are disappointed that persons involved in a most heinous crime have been able to escape punishment
IA Rehman,
Pakistan Human Rights Commission

Ms Bari said the acquittal issue had dominated a meeting of leading Pakistani women's organisations in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Friday.

The meeting was called to organise celebrations for International Women's Day on 8 March.

"We spent most of our time worrying about Mukhtar Mai's safety," Ms Bari said.

The five acquitted men are residents of the same village as Ms Mai - the site of the crime in February 2002.

Ms Mai has repeatedly refused to leave the village.

Women's rights organisations now fear the security guards provided to Ms Mai during the trial and the appeal process may be withdrawn.

They have asked Ms Mai to travel to Islamabad and have offered to help her explain her situation to the media.

Ms Mai is expected to reach the capital on Saturday.

'Government failure'

Local NGOs held a demonstration against the acquittal in the southern city of Multan on Friday. Protestors called for a retrial and chanted slogans against the government.

In the provincial capital of Lahore, the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the country's leading human rights body, expressed disappointment at the "state's failure to ensure justice".

Classroom
Mukhtar Mai spent compensation money on building schools

"We are disappointed that persons involved in a most heinous crime have been able to escape punishment and that the victim has instead been forced to pay the price for the state's failure to ensure justice," commission director IA Rehman told the AFP news agency.

Another well-known human rights lawyer, Hina Jilani, has already called for a retrial. Ms Mai is planning to appeal.

Many prominent lawyers have offered their services free, including former Pakistani interior minister, Aitzaz Ahsan.

"I am happy to take her appeal to the Supreme Court," Mr Ahsan said.

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.

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

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.

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.



SEE ALSO:
Acquittals in Pakistan gang rape
03 Mar 05 |  South Asia
School hope for rape victim
07 Dec 04 |  South Asia
Protests over Pakistan gang rape
03 Jul 02 |  South Asia
Pakistan woman tells of rape ordeal
03 Aug 02 |  South Asia
Gang rape victim welcomes verdict
01 Sep 02 |  South Asia


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