On Thursday April 21, 2011 the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a decision in the case of gang rape survivor Mukhtar Mai. Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on the orders of a village council in June 2002 when her brother was wrongly accused of having an affair with a woman from a rival gang.
Following the incident, an Anti-Terrorism Court had sentenced six of the accused men to death. This sentence was overturned by the Lahore High Court which acquitted five of the accused and commuted the sentence of the sixth to life imprisonment.
Now the Supreme Court Pakistan’s highest legal authority has affirmed the judgment of the Lahore High Court and acquitted all but one of the accused. In an astounding decision, the Court argues that the accused enjoy a “triple presumption of innocence” without ever defining the term or explaining the burden of proof it entails.
In other portions of the decision, the Court an appellate body questions Mukhtar Mai’s ability to identify her rapists given that the incident occurred after dark. The Court also refused to attach accomplice liability to other members of the council or any members of the crowd of 200/250 people which the Court’s own record admits were present when the incident took place. The decision cites lack of evidence as the reason for upholding the acquittals.
In television interviews Mukhtar Mai expressed outrage at the Court’s decision and said she had fears of retaliation from her newly freed rapists. Human rights groups in Pakistan and around the world have expressed their shock and outrage at the decision. Ignoring the reality that the local community in Mukhtar’s village supported the village council’s decision and that rape kits are almost never on rape victims, the Supreme Court has chosen to re-victimize Mukhtar by asserting the incorrect filing of the initial police report and lack of DNA evidence as some of the reasons for acquittal.
Mukhtar Mai’s case represents the double conundrum facing Pakistani victims of rape and sexual assault. Not only must they contend with the increasing power of fundamentalist groups that wish to use religion to eliminate women from the public sphere, but also institutional patriarchy that fails to acknowledge the obstacles faced by rape victims in evidence collection and crime reporting. As noted by human rights groups in Pakistan and elsewhere, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has not shied away from ordering investigations etc in other cases but has refused to do so in this instance.
Other recent setbacks for rape survivors in Pakistan include a challenge issued by the Federal Shariat Court on December 22, 2010. The Shariat Court deemed unconstitutional the provisions of the Women’s Protection Act of 2006 which amended clauses relating to rape.
The decision of the Federal Shariat Court if implemented would once again create a situation where reports made by rape victims can be used as confessions to prosecute them for fornication and/or adultery under the provisions of the Zina and Hudood Ordinance of and require them to provide four witnesses to the act to enable prosecution. The Federal Shariat Court refused to consider the arguments of Muslim scholars as well as Pakistan’s own Council of Islamic Ideology that has criticized the law as poorly constructed and lacking theological validity. On Sunday April 24, 2011 Mukhtar Mai and her legal team announced that they will be pursuing review of the case and that she will continue her efforts to educate and empower women.
To take action, please send messages to Pakistani authorities asking them to review Mukhtar Mai’s case.
SEND APPEALS TO:
Fax: 00 92-51-9207458
Salutation: Dear President Zardari
Dr. Zaheeruddin Babar Awan
Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
Room 305, S-Block,
Fax: 00 92 51 9202628
Salutation: Dear Minister
AND COPIES TO:
Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
Chief Justice of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Fax: 00 92-51-9213452
Salutation: Dear Chief Justice Chaudhry