An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced six men to death for their part in a gang rape of a woman ordered by a self-appointed village council.

The special court conducted the month-long trial behind the closed doors in the central town of Dera Ghazi Khan. Four men were found guilty of raping 30-year-old Mukhtaran Mai. The other two were members of a local tribal council that ordered the assault. All six have been sentenced to death by hanging. Defense lawyers say they will appeal against the verdict.

During the trial Ms. Mai testified she was raped as punishment for her younger brother's alleged affair with a woman from a socially prominent tribe.

Women are often subjected to violence and sexual abuse in rural Pakistan, where feudal codes of behavior still rule. Sometimes female members are even offered as compensation to settle local disputes through self-appointed village councils.

What has shocked the Pakistani nation in this particular case is that the act was committed on the orders of a local council, something that never happened before.

The incident outraged human rights groups, prompting the country's Supreme Court to order an investigation and quick trial of the accused.

Human rights groups in Pakistan have long urged the government to abolish the system of tribal justice, which they say have no legal standing.