LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters)-A Pakistani court on Friday ordered the release next week of 12 men connected to a notorious gang-rape case, including six convicted of the crime, court officials said.
The men, detained in connection with the 2002 rape of Mukhataran Mai, were ordered to be freed by the high court in the central province of Punjab, officials of the court said.
Authorities had petitioned a review board of the court to extend the detention of the 12, which expires next Monday, but the court rejected the plea, the officials said.
It was the latest twist in a case that provoked an outcry in Pakistan and focused international attention on the treatment of women in the country, particularly in rural areas, where sometimes brutal tribal customs hold sway.
The original trial before an anti-terrorism court in 2002 found that Mai was gang-raped on the orders of a traditional village council after her brother — who was 12 at the time — was judged to have offended the honor of a powerful clan by befriending a woman from their tribe.
Six men were originally convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, but five were later acquitted on appeal to the Punjab provincial court, which cited a lack of evidence. A sixth man had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
The provincial government subsequently intervened and ordered that the men be detained for three months pending the outcome of an appeal by the victim against the acquittal. Six men who served on the village council were detained at the same time.
"The review board has held that there is no justification for the detention of these people and has ordered their release after depositing surety bonds of 50,000 rupees ($840) from each of them," Malik Saleem, a lawyer for the 12 men, told Reuters.
Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat declined to comment on the decision.
Mai expressed fears for her life after the provincial high court announced the acquittals in March.
Gang rapes and honor killings are common in feudalistic rural Pakistan. In most cases the perpetrators go free because of incompetent police investigations and flaws in the legal system, which have been highlighted in the current case.
President Pervez Musharraf, who has been trying to project Pakistan as a moderate and progressive Muslim nation, has taken a personal interest in the case, saying it was tarnishing the country”s image overseas.