The case of Mukhtaran Mai

Print edition : October 21, 2005

Mukhtaran Mai, victim of gang rape, weeps after the Lahore High Court acquitted five of the accused. - KHALID TANVEER/AP

ON June 22, 2002 Mukhtaran Mai was publicly gang-raped by four men on the orders of the elders of a Mastoi tribal council in the village of Meerwala, South Punjab, Pakistan, in revenge for her younger brother's alleged rape of a woman from the tribe. Her family, from the poorer Gujjar community, maintain that the boy, aged 12 at the time, was charged with rape to silence him from revealing that he had been sodomised by Mastoi men (Frontline, July 29).

Maligned by her community, Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader she took the matter up with the authorities and the national press. The case received widespread coverage and was taken up by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In August 2002, four men and two tribal jurors were convicted in anti-terrorism courts and sentenced to death. Two years later two men of the Mastoi tribe were found guilty of sodomising Mukhtaran's brother and imprisoned.

In March 2005 the Multan Bench of the Lahore High Court acquitted five men citing lack of evidence and faulty investigation. This was despite various accounts indicating that no less than 150 people witnessed the event. A sixth had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. After an appeal by Mukhtaran against the acquittal, the provincial government ordered the six men detained whilst the case was in progress. Another six men who served on the village council were detained at the same time.

In June, she was invited by the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women to tour the United States to speak at about her experiences at symposia and meet representatives of other human rights organisations. On June 10, Mukhtaran Mai learnt that she had been placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) instituted to prevent political opponents and the corrupt from fleeing abroad. She was put under house arrest where she continued to make contact with the media and lawyers at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) via her mobile phone. As an act of intimidation, the 13 men accused were simultaneously released on bail. She then fell silent.

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