Five of Six Accused Rapists Acquitted in High-Profile Pakistan Case

Women's rights movement in Pakistan suffers setback with legal defeat for Mai

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Today, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted five of the six men convicted of gang-raping Mukhtaran Mai in 2002. The court ordered the immediate release of the five acquitted men due to lack of eyewitness evidence; it also upheld the decision of a lower court to commute the death-penalty sentence of the sixth man to life imprisonment.

Mai's case drew international attention in 2002, when she went public with her story of being gang-raped by a group acting on behalf of village elders. Mai's brother was accused of sleeping with a woman from a rival clan; Mai says that she was targeted and raped as a form of honor revenge. The case has made its way through the courts with multiple twists and reversals since then.

Since 2002, Mai has since founded a school for girls and an NGO, and has become synonymous with the women's rights movement in Pakistan--a movement that onlookers say has been threatened by today's court decision. Mehdi Hasan, former chairman of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the verdict would have a "negative impact on civil society organizations that are trying to improve the condition of women." And Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said that the decision "suggests women can be abused and even raped with impunity and those perpetrating such crimes can walk."

Mai, for her part, says she no longer feels safe at her home in Pakistan's Punjab province. "I don't have any more faith in the courts. I have put my faith in God's judgment now," she told the BBC today. "There is a threat to me and my family. There is a threat of death, and even of the same thing happening again. Anything can happen."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.