The State Department said Wednesday Pakistani authorities have cleared the victim in a notorious gang-rape case to travel abroad after high-level U.S. intervention. U.S. officials have expressed dismay over the treatment of Mukhtaran Mai, who has become a campaigner against the abuse of women in her country.
The 33-year-old Ms. Mai has been the focus of controversy since 2002, when a traditional council in her village in Punjab province ordered her to be gang-raped because her younger brother allegedly had relations with a woman from a higher caste.
After a public outcry over Ms. Mai's treatment, a provincial court put 12 men on trial for the rape, including the head of the local council, and six were sentenced to death.
But earlier this year, another court overturned five of the convictions and reduced the sentence of the sixth man to life in prison.
The 12 men were subsequently re-arrested on order of the Islamabad government but were freed last week.
Ms. Mai meanwhile was placed under house detention and told she could not travel abroad, apparently because officials believe her personal accounts of the ordeal could harm Pakistan's image.
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca told Congressmen at a hearing Tuesday U.S. officials were dismayed over the treatment of Ms. Mai, and that the issue would be taken up immediately with Pakistani authorities.
At a news briefing Wednesday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that matter was raised with Pakistani officials in Islamabad and Washington, and that the travel ban had been lifted.
He said Ms. Mai, whom he described as a courageous woman and victim of a horrendous crime, is welcome to visit the United States at any time.
"We were confronted with what I can only say was an outrageous situation, where her attackers were ordered to be freed while she had restrictions on her travel placed on her," the spokesman said. "We conveyed our views about these restrictions to the senior levels of the Pakistani government. The government of Pakistan informed us today that Ms. Mai been removed from its exit control list permitting her to travel out of Pakistan. We have also advised Pakistani officials that she was invited to the United States by a Pakistani organization based on the U.S."
The case of Ms. Mai has focused international attention on the treatment of women in rural Pakistan, where gang rapes and honor killings still occur, and feudal tribal customs are still enforced.
The New York Times, which has reported extensively on the case, said in an editorial Wednesday the U.S. alliance with Pakistan should go beyond military sales and include pressing that country to adopt what it termed minimum standards of human rights.