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Pakistani High Court Hears Appeals in Notorious Gang-Rape Case


Pakistan's Supreme Court is hearing appeals by a woman who was gang-raped on the orders of a village council to punish her family. Mukhtaran Mai is hoping the highest court will keep her attackers behind bars, after their convictions were overturned.

The case has attracted worldwide attention since it happened in 2002, and has highlighted brutal forms of tribal justice prevalent in remote areas of Pakistan.

The victim, Mukhtaran Mai, was gang-raped on orders of a council of elders in her Meerwala village in central Pakistan. It was cited as punishment for her teenage brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste.

Ms. Mai came forward, and her case drew global condemnation, forcing authorities to try Ms. Mai's 14 alleged rapists under the country's anti-terror laws. A special court found six villagers guilty, and gave them the death penalty.

But an appeals court in March, citing insufficient evidence, overturned the convictions of five men, and reduced the sentence of the sixth.

On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court opened hearings in the Mai appeal. The victim's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, told reporters outside the court they have a strong case. "Justice will be done in the Supreme Court. That is why we are appealing to the Supreme Court. We are seeking reappraisement [sic]of the evidence from the Supreme Court," he said.

The courtroom was crowded with Ms. Mai's supporters, including members of non-governmental organizations. Several foreign diplomats also attended.

Cabinet Minister for Women's Development Nilofar Bakhtiar, speaking to VOA, dismissed new claims the government is trying to silence Ms. Mai by restricting her movements. "It is a matter of prestige and pride for us, as well, if justice is given to Mukhtaran Mai. She should rest assured that we will do our utpost to give her justice. Once justice is given to her, she will be able to travel all over the world, and tell the world what the government of Pakistan has done for her, [and] what the civil society has done for her," she said.

In a surprise move this month, the government barred 36-year-old Mukhtaran Mai from visiting the United States to talk about her case. Human rights activists and Washington issued stinging criticism, and the government lifted the travel ban. On Monday, Ms. Mai confirmed the government has returned her passport, but she says she has no immediate plans to travel abroad.

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