A Pakistani woman raped in 2002 supposedly for a crime committed by her brother recently saw her rapists acquitted but, on orders of Premier Shaukat Aziz, the BBC reports, the men have been rearrested.

“My choice was either to commit suicide or to fight back,” Mai recalled last week [to Newsweek correspondents]. “I decided to fight back.”
From the March 28 issue of Newsweek:

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSoon after Mukhtar Mai was savagely gang-raped on the orders of a village council three years ago, she considered her options. She had never been accused of any crime. (The rape was carried out as supposed retribution for an alleged and implausible affair between Mai’s teenage brother and a 30-year-old woman.)

But according to rural Pakistan’s strict Islamic code, she was forever “dishonored.” The local Mastoi clan, which dominates the village council, expected her to keep her mouth shut or simply disappear. Her own Gujar clan refused to support her. …

She’s still fighting. Although an anti-terrorist court convicted and sentenced to death six of the 14 men initially charged with the rape in 2002, an appeals court overturned the sentences last month. [Then] the Federal Sharia Court, which has unclear jurisdiction, nullified both verdicts… [and] the Supreme Court announced plans to retry the case, and last week released four of the attackers on bail [before their rearrest]. “I’m afraid I’m returning to the same sense of insecurity I felt three years ago,” said Mai, 32, when she first heard the men were out of jail. “I can’t forget what happened; it keeps haunting me.”

Mai’s courage and actions are exceptionally inspiring. So too is the generosity of contributors, including the Canadian government:

Using government compensation and contributions …, Mai built the first school for girls in her village, as well as a school for boys. She plans to use a $33,000 grant from the Canadian government to add a library and a playground, and … a cattle-breeding project. … she envisions building a children’s hospital. …

“The U.S. civil-rights campaign had Rosa Parks, who helped to spark an entire movement,” says Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani activist and opposition member of Parliament. “We have Mukhtar Mai.”

When the four convicted rapists briefly returned to Mai’s village last week, members of the Mastoi clan celebrated. But the village is a changed place. In an unprecedented display of independence, several dozen local women filed into Mai’s dusty compound as nervous and perplexed local men looked on. … The women sat on rope beds next to Mai’s cow, goat and two buffaloes. They talked about women’s rights. “I’ve tried to do something positive to bring about change,” says Mai. “That gives me satisfaction.”

The BBC reports that 30 policeman now protect Ms. Mai, and that she seeks the ultimate retribution:

Under Mr Aziz’s orders, the four are to be kept in detention until the Supreme Court decides the final appeal.

Thirty policemen were deployed to the village on Wednesday to provide security.

Ms Mai said on Thursday: “To me, justice means those who raped me should die by hanging.”

She said she was carrying on the fight “because I know it will be a lesson for other people if those who raped me are hanged”.

Human Rights Watch weighs in:

It is imperative that government authorities ensure that village panchayats, tribal jirgas and other customary councils act in accordance with the law and in a manner that respect women’s rights and do not usurp the proper judicial role of the civil courts. …

Precisely because of international attention there is still hope – recent court decisions and jurisdictional confusion notwithstanding – that Mukhtar Mai’s rapists will be brought to justice.

And dare I say that let’s hope someday justice will not mean the death penalty for the rapists.

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