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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 16:45 GMT
Pakistan rape case accused freed
Mukhtar Mai
Ms Mai had asked that those acquitted should be held pending her appeal
Four of the five people acquitted in a highly-publicised gang-rape in Pakistan have been released from jail.

The victim, Mukhtar Mai was raped allegedly on the orders of a tribal council in 2002 for a crime attributed to her brother.

The release orders came after the Supreme Court set aside the ruling of an Islamic court which had earlier suspended the acquittals.

The acquittals shocked human rights groups sparking country-wide protests.

The fifth was detained on other unrelated charges, officials said.

Legal wrangle

The release has turned one of Pakistan's most high profile gang-rape cases into a legal wrangle between various tiers of the country's judiciary, correspondents say.

Fourteen people were accused of being involved in the case but eight of them were found not guilty by a trial court in August 2002.

The remaining six were sentenced to death by the anti-terrorism court. Pakistani law allows anti-terrorism courts to try cases of heinous crime including gang rape.

The defendants' appeal to the High Court was upheld last week and five of the six were acquitted. The death sentence of the sixth was commuted to life.

The court ruled there was insufficient evidence and incorrect investigation procedures.

Ms Mai said she would file an appeal to the Supreme Court and said the men should not be freed until it was heard.

The Pakistani government also criticised the acquittals and said it would appeal.

Fear

But before the appeal could be filed, an Islamic court in Pakistan suspended the High Court ruling saying that the latter had no right to hear the appeal.

Mai Multan protest
Pakistani rights groups say Ms Mai (left) has shown courage
Legislation allows the Sharia court to hear any criminal case that falls under Islamic laws called the Hudood laws. These cases include rape and adultery.

They ordered Ms Mai, the six defendants and seven men acquitted in an earlier decision to attend the new hearing. No date was given.

The Sharia court argued that Ms Mai's case should have been tried under Hudood laws and not anti-terrorism legislation.

Fearing a legal wrangle between the courts, the Supreme Court said on 14 March it was taking over.

A district and sessions judge in district Dera Ghazi Khan ordered the release of the five acquitted by the High Court, arguing that the Supreme Court's intervention did not stop those acquitted from being released.

Jail authorities said they were told by the judge that the Supreme Court had not suspended the High Court's judgment and would merely hear an appeal whenever it was filed, correspondents say.

Ms Mai had appealed to the government after the High Court's ruling that those acquitted should not be released.

She said she feared for her life if they returned to the village where the gang-rape had taken place and where ms Mai now runs a school.


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