Ritual gang rape victim tells of death threats after six sentenced to hang

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A PAKISTANI woman gang raped by four men on the orders of a traditional village jury said she was satisfied with the six death sentences handed down for the crime yesterday.

A special anti-terrorism court in the central town of Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced four rapists and two jurors for the 22 June attack on a divorcee, Mukhtaran Mai, 30.

Eight other men who had sat on the jury that authorised the crime were released.

Ms Mai, who says her family has received numerous death threats, was not in court when the judge announced the decision.

She was given the news at dawn by a relative in her home village of Meerwala, the scene of the attack.

"God has provided justice to me," she said. "If courts start giving decisions like this, I am sure rapes will be reduced, if not stopped totally. I am satisfied with the decision."

Ms Mai’s father, Ghulam Farid Jat, said she was overcome by the news. "She cried loudly and fainted a few times," he said.

The four men raped Ms Mai after she approached a traditional jury, or panchayat, to settle a dispute with the more powerful Mastoi clan.

She said she went to the jury after her brother, Abdul Shakoor, 12, was kidnapped and sodomised by members of the Mastoi family as a punishment for having an illicit affair with one of their female relatives.

The jury ruled that, to save Mastoi honour, the boy should marry the woman with whom he was linked while Ms Mai was to be given away in marriage to a Mastoi man.

When she rejected the decision, she was gang-raped and made to walk home nearly naked in front of hundreds of people.

Police sent extra armed men to Meerwala and cordoned off Ms Mai’s house to prevent any revenge attack.

Mastoi family members said police had detained eight of their men as a precaution, but no confirmation was available.

On Friday, Ms Mai said she and her family had been threatened with revenge if the men were convicted. She asked for government help to move to a safer place.

"We are receiving death threats. They have told us that if their four people are sentenced to death, they would kill eight of our men. Not only my family, but those who supported us are being threatened with dire consequences."

Lawyers for the convicted men have said they will appeal. Ms Mai’s lawyer, Ramzan Khalid Joya, said he would also appeal - against the acquittal of the eight other accused. "We believe they are equally responsible for the crime because they sat on the jury," he said.

Execution in Pakistan is by hanging. Generally it goes ahead only after a lengthy appeals process, but the anti-terrorism law under which the case was tried requires appeals to be filed within seven days.

A defence lawyer, Malik Mohammad Saleem, said he would like time for "the dust to settle" before the appeal.

"But I believe this will be decided in a month or so because they are in a hurry to hang the convicts," he said.

Even though gang rapes and "honour" killings are common in rural Pakistan, the case caused an outcry when it was reported in national newspapers to highlight the plight of women in rural areas.

Village councils are often convened to settle local disputes and women often end up as pawns of village elders.

Women’s rights organisations welcomed the verdicts. "This was a correct decision," said Farzana Anjum of the Progressive Women’s Association. "This will deter criminals from committing such heinous crimes like gang rape."

Ms Mai’s father said she had offered special prayers after the verdict and intended to visit a shrine to give thanks.

But he said she had refused to accept sweets brought as gifts by several villagers after the verdict. "There’s nothing to celebrate," he quoted her as saying. "Whatever punishment they got is because of their crime."