|Pakistani rape victim Mukhtar Mai|
Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the re-arrest of 13 men accused of involvement in the gang rape of a woman in 2002, pending completion of the final appeals in the case. The high-profile affair has been the object of great international attention.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench is hearing the appeal by Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang raped three years ago, allegedly on orders of the council of elders in her Meerwala village in central Pakistan.
The rape was ordered to punish her family for her teenage brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste.
Several months after the incident, a trial court acquitted eight others in the case, but convicted six men and sentenced them to death. But in March this year, an appeals court overturned the convictions of five of the men, finding insufficient evidence, and reduced the sentence of the sixth to life imprisonment.
On Tuesday, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered suspension of all previous rulings in the case, and decided to re-examine the evidence. Ms. Mai's lawyers, Aitzaz Ahsan, explains the court order.
"The case will be re-evaluated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In the meantime, the court has also directed the immediate arrest of all of the assailants as well as all of the members of the village council who sanctioned the rape," said Mr. Ahsan.
Mr. Ahsan says he believes there is enough evidence to prove the gang rape and seek maximum punishment for those involved.
"We will, of course, seek that the convictions which were recorded by the trial court be reinstated, and the acquittals that were handed out be not only disregarded, but be set aside. We think that the evidence warrants convictions," he added.
The rape and the subsequent acquittal of most of Ms. Mai's attackers attracted global condemnation, and highlighted the brutal forms of tribal justice prevalent in mostly conservative rural Pakistan.
Since her rape, Ms. Mai has defied tradition by speaking publicly about her ordeal in a country where victims of such incidents normally remain silent in order to protect their families' honor.
She has also become a prominent activist for women's rights, and has set up a girls' school in her village with donations from her supporters.
More recently, Ms. Mai and human rights groups criticized the government for restricting her movements and banning her from visiting the United States to talk about her case.
The government removed the restrictions after harsh criticism from human rights activists and from Washington.