Pakistan: high court upholds acquittals in Mukhtar Mai gang-rape case

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on April 21 upheld the acquittal of five of the six men accused in the gang rape of Mukhtar Mai—the woman whose refusal to remain silent about the crime committed in 2002 won international acclaim for her courage. The three-member bench of the high court freed all but one of the six men. Abdul Khaliq will continue to serve a life term, which in Pakistani practice would likely be no more than 25 years. The ruling stunned the victim, who also goes by Mukhtar Bibi. “I’m very sad,” she said from her home in the southern Punjab village of Meerwala. “Why was I made to wait five years if this was the decision to be given?”

Mai has always maintained that the elders of her village had ordered the rape as punishment for actions attributed to her younger brother. The 12-year-old was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival tribe. But the boy himself had been molested, and the allegations against him were found to be part of a cover-up.

In a lengthy ruling, the Supreme Court said that the prosecution’s evidence against the accused rapists “is not confidence inspiring, thus the benefit must go to the accused.” It noted there were no DNA or semen tests conducted.

But Mai said the court ignored an abundance of evidence. “The entire area knows that I was raped. The entire area provided witnesses… Around 50 to 100 people were gathered there. Even one of the elders confessed to hearing me cry and shout for them to stop. Why does the court not take all that into account?”

Human rights activist Farzana Bari said that in cases that involve influential villagers, witnesses are often dissuaded from testifying. “So as a result of that, the people from that area who witnessed this crime were not willing to come and give evidence in the court, except people from [the victim’s] own family, and obviously the court won’t take those evidences seriously.”

Haroon notes that convictions are won in only 5% of cases involving crimes against women in Pakistan. “It reflects on this whole system,” she said. “It is encouraging for the perpetrators who see how they can go scot-free. That is one reason why violence against women is increasing manifold. It’s multiplying.”

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said Pakistan’s judiciary took a step backward with the ruling, and essentially endorsed vigilante justice. “Village elders got together and thought it was a good idea that this dispute between these two subtribes would be settled by handing this woman over. And the message the court sent was: It doesn’t matter!”

Mai said with the accused rapists going free, she is worried for her safety. But she added: “Women the world over should not lose courage. God is just and he will dispense justice.” (NPR, April 21)

See our last posts on Pakistan and the Mukhtar Mai case.

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