Pakistan arrests rape victim

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is something of a mixed bag: he makes frequent noises like a Terror War hardliner and quasi-Ashcroftian freedom-hater, but (even if, perhaps, for some bad Arabophobe reasons) he was among the first to raise the alarm on Darfur, and stayed on top of the issue even as the Powers That Be sought to ignore it. Today he gets a big thumbs-up from us for bringing this egregious injustice in Pakistan to the world’s attention:

Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced

New York Times
June 14, 2005

No wonder the Pakistan government can’t catch Osama bin Laden. It is too busy harassing, detaining – and now kidnapping – a gang-rape victim for daring to protest and for planning a visit to the United States.

Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.

Readers of my column sent in more than $133,000 for her. Mercy Corps, a U.S. aid organization, has helped her administer the money, and she has expanded the schools, started a shelter for abused women and bought a van that is used as an ambulance for the area. She has also emerged as a ferocious spokeswoman against honor killings, rapes and acid attacks on women. (If you want to help her, please don’t send checks to me but to Mercy Corps, with “Mukhtaran Bibi” in the memo line: 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201.)

A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting this Saturday (see Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government went berserk.

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest – to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.

After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there’s been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn’t answer.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

“She’s in their custody, in illegal custody,” Ms. Jahangir said. “They have gone completely crazy.”

Even if Ms. Mukhtaran were released, airports have been alerted to bar her from leaving the country. According to Dawn, a Karachi newspaper, the government took this step, “fearing that she might malign Pakistan’s image.”

Excuse me, but Ms. Mukhtaran, a symbol of courage and altruism, is the best hope for Pakistan’s image. The threat to Pakistan’s image comes from President Musharraf for all this thuggish behavior.

I’ve been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence, partly because he’s cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has done a good job nurturing Pakistan’s economic growth, which in the long run is probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.

But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.

“This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder,” Ms. Jahangir said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was happening, President Bush received Pakistan’s foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf’s “bold leadership.”

So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office – to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power, but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.

Note that this account from the June 12 South Asia Tribune says that 12 assailants were ordered freed (after only three months behind bars) as Mukhtaran was arrested. It is unclear on what legal grounds she is being held, but she has apparently been placed on the dreaded Exit Control List (ECL) which means she cannot leave Pakistan, even if she obtains any number of foreign visas.

Incidentally, the top story on the front page of today’s Times, the headline spanning four columns, was the Michael Jackson acquittal.

For more on Mukhtaran’s case, see WW4 REPORT #s 41, 49 and our last blog post.

  1. Update
    After the State Department was shamed into formally inviting Mukhtaran to the United States, Pakistan released her and announced it was lifting the travel restrictions. (Press Trust of India, June 16)

    Now comes word of a similarly harrowing case from India:

    Woman ‘ordered to marry rapist’

    An Indian woman who was allegedly raped by her father-in-law is now being ordered by a Muslim council of community elders to marry him.

    The council says under Islamic law the rape has nullified her marriage, according to media reports.

    But a top Muslim body in India has rejected the argument saying it is not valid under Sharia (Islamic) law.

    It says the council was not authorised to give such a verdict and added that the alleged rapist should be punished.

    Reports say the 28-year-old woman was raped when she was alone at home in Charthawal, in the norther Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

    When the incident came to the notice of the council, it ordered that she marry her father-in-law and change her relationship with her husband to that between a mother and son.

    It also ordered her to leave her home and stay away for seven month and 10 days to become “pure”.

    Police action

    A senior police officer, Amrinder Singh Senger, told the BBC that police have now filed a case against the woman’s father-in-law .

    The victim has also been examined by doctors and police have recorded her statement.

    India’s National Commission of Women has also asked for a report from the government in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the incident took place.

    “We have requested the government to take action against the guilty and also pay compensation to the victim,” NCW president Girija Vyas told the BBC.

    A representative of a top Muslim body in India, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the case should be dealt under Islamic law.

    “Under the Sharia law, whatever happened with the victim is wrong and if her father-in-law has raped her, he should be sentenced to death,” the representative, Zafarab Geelani, said. (BBC, June 15)