The Islamic court in Pakistan has restored the convictions of five men sentenced to death for raping a woman on orders from a village council. The decision is yet another twist in the high-profile gang rape case that drew international attention last week when another court ruled the men should be set free.
Pakistan's Sharia Court, the highest legal body for religious cases, says that the civil court system does not have the right to deal with the matter. It has ordered all the defendants in the case and the rape victim, Mukhtaran Mai, to appear before judges of the Islamic court for a new hearing.
The 30-year old Ms. Mai was raped on the orders of a village council in central Punjab province two years ago to punish her family for her brother's alleged illicit love affair with a woman from a more powerful tribe.
Six men, including two village elders were sentenced to death the same year but last week a higher court overturned the sentences of five of them, ordering their release from custody. The sixth man had his death sentence reduced to life in prison.
Human rights activists in the country and around the world condemned the ruling, calling it "shocking and disgraceful".
Supreme Court lawyer Babar Awan says the decision by the Islamic court will likely mean that the Supreme Court will have to reconsider the issue.
"It raises the presumption upon the credibility of the judiciary and it has created a lot of confusion and chaos. And I believe the Supreme Court of the country needs to intervene into the matter," Mr. Awan said. "Because (if) today this is done, then there are many other cases rather dozens of cases, which are pending in different (civil) courts at different levels. And what would happen to those cases that is also a relevant question."
The religious Sharia court says it alone has the power to rule on appeals in rape cases because they are tried under Pakistan's Islamic law, known as the Hudood Ordinance.
But Mr. Awan says the Islamic court's ruling should be challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan because it has raised questions about the credibility of the country's judiciary.