A PAKISTANI woman who became the focus of international outcry when she was gang-raped at the orders of a village council yesterday said she feared for her safety after the country's highest court acquitted 14 men accused of attacking her.
Mukhtar Mai was an illiterate young woman when she was raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council who deemed it a suitable punishment after her younger brother, aged just 12, was alleged to have insulted the honour of a rival tribe by having an affair with one of its female members.
Rather than accepting the punishment as tradition demanded, Ms Mai spoke out against the attack on her and her case triggered widespread outrage. She pursued the case through the courts, where it emerged that her brother had been molested by three tribesmen and that the allegation against him had been part of an attempted cover-up. A court subsequently convicted six of a total of 14 men she had accused and sentenced them to death. The others were acquitted.
Amid the unprecedented publicity her case received, Ms Mai became a totem of the women's rights movement in Pakistan and beyond. She was able to set up several schools close to her native village, Meerwala, in Punjab province, to help educate young women.
Those men found guilty of attacking her appealed to the Lahore High Court which later overturned five of the six convictions and commuted the death sentence of the one man whose conviction it upheld, Abdul Khaliq. Ms Mai announced in 2005 she would take her case to the Supreme Court and seek to have all 14 men convicted.
But yesterday Ms Mai learned that a three-member bench of the court had rejected her appeal. Reacting on Twitter soon after the judgment, she wrote: "Supreme court's verdict proves that police dictate justice system in Pakistan . . . No court can weaken my resolve to stand against injustice."
Later Ms Mai vowed her work with schools would continue, and she would not leave the country, but said the ruling had made her fear for her safety. Speaking from her village, she said: "When these people come back to my village, my family and myself will be under threat. I will be staying in Pakistan, in my village, but if I am hurt in any way the government and the Supreme Court will be responsible." (© Independent News Service)