ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani woman gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council said on Monday she hoped the country”s Supreme Court would reimpose death sentences on the men who attacked her.
The Supreme Court began hearing an appeal by the woman, Mukhtaran Mai, against the acquittal of five of six men convicted in the assault.
"I expect the same decision as was given by the special court," Mai told reporters in the Supreme Court before the session began, referring to the conviction of the men.
Six men were originally convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, but five were later acquitted after appealing to a high court in Punjab province, which cited a lack of evidence. A sixth had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Mai, 33, 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 the tribe.
Feudal and tribal laws still hold sway in many rural parts of predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
The rape provoked a national outcry and focused international attention on the treatment of women in rural Pakistan.
The Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad, was crowded with Mai”s supporters including members of non-governmental organizations. Several foreigners were also in attendance.
Clad in traditional shalwar kameez baggy shirt and trousers and with a pink shawl over her head, a frail-looking Mai sat quietly in the court throughout the session.
Mai”s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said he believed that there was "substantial evidence" to corrorborate the crime against the accused.
"Our case is that the high court in acquitting has misappreciated and misread the evidence," Ahsan told reporters at the end of Monday”s session.
"We feel we have a strong case," he said.
"We do not want the matter to be prolonged … we want the Supreme Court to reappraise the evidence and give the judgment on the basis of that."
The three-judge Supreme Court bench discussed procedural issues on Monday before adjourning the session. The hearing will resume on Tuesday.
The six convicted men, and another six men who served on the village council and were detained, were ordered released by the Punjab high court this month although they remain in detention.
Human rights workers had wanted Mai to go abroad to speak on the plight of women but the government, saying it was acting in the interests of her security, recently banned her from overseas travel.
Following protests from various quarters, including the U.S. government, the ban was lifted but her passport was not immediately returned.
Mai said on Monday she had got her passport back though she had no immediate plan to travel because she wanted to see her appeal finished first.
A State Department spokesman said last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the matter of Mai”s freedom to travel with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri.
President Pervez Musharraf, who has been trying to project Pakistan as a moderate and progressive Muslim nation, has taken a personal interest Mai”s case, saying it was tarnishing the country”s image overseas.