Pakistani men acquitted over Mukhtaran Mai's rape case


In this photograph taken on February 28, 2011, Pakistani Mukhtar Mai speaks at a shelter set up by her to protect helpless women in the village of Mirwala in Pakistan's central Punjab province.


Aamir Qureshi

Pakistan's Supreme Court has acquitted five men accused of gang raping a woman, Mukhtaran Mai, under orders from a village council.

The sixth man accused in the case, Abdul Khalique, has had his life sentence upheld, Al Jazeera reports.

The 2002 case drew international attention because the victim chose to speak out about her ordeal and thereby became a symbol for the fight for women's rights in Pakistan. She was named one of the TIME's Asia Heroes in 2004.

According to reports, the woman was allegedly raped after her 12-year-old brother had an affair and brought shame on the family and clan. To punish the brother and entire family, a village council, part of the powerful Mastoi clan, allegedly ordered six men to gang rape the woman.

Rather than take the punishment silently, Mukhtaran Mai began a lengthy legal process against the men, BBC reports.

The Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Lahore High Court, which ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict the five men, it states.

Mukhtaran Mai told BBC that the police did not record her statements correctly and she now has no faith in Pakistan's courts.

She is also worried the acquitted men will now try to harm her.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch has condemned the Supreme Court decision.

"Today's verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the Mukhtaran Mai case reflects poorly on the Supreme Court," Ali Dayan Hasan, HRW's South Asia researcher, told Al Jazeera. "This is a setback for Mukhtaran Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women and the cause of an independent, rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan."