Pakistan rape case highlights tensions

PAKISTAN’S SUPREME COURT last week ordered the re-arrest of 13 men acquitted in a notorious gang-rape case that has gripped the country and highlighted the treatment of women.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  July 3, 2005

PAKISTAN’S SUPREME COURT last week ordered the re-arrest of 13 men acquitted in a notorious gang-rape case that has gripped the country and highlighted the treatment of women. The ruling came after an appeal by the victim, Mukhtar Mai, who was allegedly raped in 2002 on orders from a village council because her younger brother was seen with a woman from a higher-caste family. Mai and her family deny any affair ever took place, saying the brother was in fact sexually assaulted by members of the other family. The case became mired in controversy after a lower court in March overturned the convictions of five men and commuted the death sentence of another to life in prison. Several other men, most of them members of the village council, were acquitted three years ago. “I am happy and I hope those who humiliated me will be punished,’’ the 33-year old Mai told reporters after the ruling. “I was expecting justice from the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has done justice.’’ The case acquired political overtones after president Pervez Musharraf ordered Mai to be banned from travelling abroad, fearing she might undermine Pakistan’s international image. The government had stationed a permanent police presence at 33-year-old Ms. Mai’s house in Meerwala, in the central Punjab province, saying she needs protection. 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 before the ruling. Last week in Islamabad Ms. Mai confirmed that she had now had her passport returned. 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. But President Musharraf said 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. Nelofar Bakhtiar, Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz’s adviser for Women’s Affairs, said last week that the case had been highlighted to malign Pakistan’s image in the international arena. .

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