Dismissing an appeal by gang rape victim Mukhtaran Mai, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Lahore High Court’s decision to acquit five of the six accused in the rape case.
Mai, now 40, was gang raped in June 2002 on the orders of a “panchayat” in Meerwala town of Punjab as punishment after her younger brother was wrongly accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival clan. The boy was 11-years-old at the time.
A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Mian Shakirullah heard the case on Mukhtaran Mai’s appeal against the Lahore High Court (LHC) Multan bench judgment on March 3, 2005. The other two members on the bench were Justice Nasirul Mulk and Justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
In its written order, the apex court directed the immediate release of the five accused if no other cases were registered against them. The death penalty for the sixth man, Abdul Khaliq, was changed to life in prison.
“I’m disappointed. Why was I made to wait for five years if this decision was to be given?” a sobbing Mai told Reuters by telephone from her village after the court announced the decision. “The police never even recorded my own statements correctly,” she told the BBC.
“I don’t have any more faith in the courts. I have put my faith in God’s judgement now. I don’t know what the legal procedure is, but my faith [in the system] is gone.
Mukhtaran Mai was an illiterate villager at the time but she defied taboos and shot to global fame by speaking about her ordeal accusing 14 attackers and taking them to court.
As the case got global attention and pressure from the international community increased, former president Musharraf’s government was forced to decide the matter speedily.
Within a span of three months, a local anti-terrorism court (ATC) sentenced six accused to death, while acquitting the other eight for a lack of evidence. However, the Lahore High Court acquitted five of the men in March 2005, and commuted the sentence for the main accused, Abdul Khaliq, to life imprisonment. The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2005.
In its order, the court also discharged its suo motu action taken on March 14, 2005 in the matter. The court in its decision found the prosecution case to be weak.
Earlier, Aitzaz Ahsan had argued before the Supreme Court that the complainant party was under constant threat from the accused to not disclose the incident. He argued that the fundamental and crucial testimony in any rape case is always that of the victim. However, the court found that the testimony of the complainant lacked corroboration and observed deliberate delay by Mukhtaran Mai in the registration of an FIR.
The prosecution witnesses and Mukhtaran Mai, during their testimonies had referred to the threats held out to the complainant party after the incident to prevent them from reporting to the police.
The judgment authored by Justice Saqib Nisar held that there are ten issues arising out of the LHC judgment, eight are the appeals (four each) against the acquittal of the accused having been initiated by the complainant and the State; one appeal has been filed by the convict and the last is the suo motu action by the Supreme court refraining the Federal Shariat Court from taking up the issue.
The lawyer for Mukhtaran Mai informed the court that the very act of bringing the complainant to the panchayat to seek forgiveness for her brother and raping her instead, demonstrates the power of the Mastoi community against the complainant.
Mukhtaran Mai in her testimony, which the Supreme Court produced in its detail judgment, said: “I (Mukhtaran Mai) stated to the police that after the accused committed Zina, I came out in nude condition and called out my father Ghulam Fareed. I had not put on the shalwar as it was without string, nor I covered the same on my body, and my father had arrived just then”.
The woman celebrated by human rights activists for her courage, runs a school for girls in her village, and has vowed that Thursday’s ruling will not force her to leave her home.
“Life and death are in the hands of Allah… I will not shut my school and other projects,” she told Reuters news agency.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM THE BBC AND REUTERS
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011.