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Last Updated: Monday, 27 June, 2005, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Pakistan hears rape case appeal
Mukhtar Mai (R) leaves the Supreme Court in Islamabad
Mukhtar Mai (R), leaving court, has "high hopes" of success
Pakistan's Supreme Court has begun hearing appeals in a notorious gang rape case that has been the centre of worldwide attention.

A village council allegedly ordered the rape of Mukhtar Mai in 2002 because her younger brother was seen with a woman from a more influential tribe.

The case became mired in controversy after a lower court in March overturned the convictions of five men.

Ms Mai and the government are appealing against four of those acquittals.

This terrible rape case was in one remote part of Pakistan and is not rampant everywhere and happening every day
President Musharraf

Ms Mai, 33, said outside court on Monday: "I have high hopes. I hope the original verdict will be upheld and that my attackers will be punished."

Proceedings are expected to last at least a week. The three-judge panel adjourned the case until Tuesday after hearing initial arguments.

Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan said the decision to acquit was unsustainable and corroborating evidence had been ignored.

'House arrest'

The case acquired political overtones after President Pervez Musharraf barred Ms Mai from travelling abroad, fearing she might undermine Pakistan's image.

The government has stationed police at her home in Meerwala, in central Punjab province, saying she needs protection.

320 rapes in first nine months of 2004
350 gang rapes in same period
39 people arrested
Police cases registered in only a third of reported rapes
Source: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

But she has complained that she is under virtual house arrest.

"Are free people like this? I am not being allowed to speak with people," she told the Associated Press news agency.

On Monday Ms Mai confirmed she had now been given back her passport.

Critics of Pakistan's judicial and social systems say the Mukhtar Mai case is an example of appalling treatment often handed out to women, particularly in feudal, rural areas.

President Musharraf says the case is not representative.

"We are no worse than any other developing country," he said earlier this month during a tour of New Zealand.

'Test case'

Both Ms Mai and the government are appealing to the Supreme Court in Islamabad to overturn the March acquittals of four men initially sentenced to death for raping her.

They are not appealing against the acquittal of a fifth man - a village council member.

Mukhtar Mai
Mukhtar Mai - unlike many rape victims, she has fought back

The acquittals were ordered by the Lahore High Court on the grounds of lack of evidence. It also reduced the death sentence of a sixth man to life imprisonment.

The six men were among 14 men originally charged in the case.

All 14 men are behind bars after the Punjab government ordered their arrests, in spite of the judgement of the Lahore High Court.

As well as hearing petitions from Ms Mai and the government, the Supreme Court will rule on a petition from the man serving life imprisonment who is asking to be acquitted.

Ms Mai's case will be an example for other women in the same situation
Aarsi Sagar, Manila, Philippines

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says the case has become a test of President Musharraf's commitment to protect the rights of women.

Women's and civil rights activists, he says, argue neither the president nor the government have been able or had the will to resist the tribal and feudal leaders who mete out justice by what they see as a time-honoured cultural code.

See Mukhtar Mai speaking out about the court case

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