Lahore, April 22(ANI): The acquittal of five of the six accused in the Mukhtaran Mai gangrape case by Pakistan's Supreme Court is being seen as a setback to women's rights in the country.
Mai was gang raped on the orders of a village council in 2002 as a punishment because her 12-year-old brother was judged to have offended the honour of a powerful clan by allegedly having an affair with one of its women, although villagers say that the boy was merely seen walking with the girl.
Mai became a national and international symbol of the then almost nonexistent women's rights movement in Pakistan, when she spoke out against her attackers following her ordeal in 2002.
However, Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted five of the six accused in the gang rape case yesterday as it upheld the verdict of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in a highly watched decision, which critics say will set back the struggle for women's rights, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Thursday's verdict not only has a "negative impact on civil society organizations that are trying to improve the condition of women," but also highlights weak collection of evidence by the police that allows serious criminals as well as terrorists to walk free, said Mehdi Hasan, former chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
"During the last four years in serious crimes like terrorism, 98 per cent of accused have been acquitted," said Hasan, citing HRCP research.
The apex court's detailed judgment cites lack of DNA testing as a reason for acquitting the men.
"The entire case fell apart on lack of evidence. There was no corroboration of statements, various things were missing. The police in this country are not sensitized to deal with rape victims," said lawyer and talk-show host Ayesha Tammy Haq, adding that police reform is crucial to bringing culprits to justice.
"In a country like Pakistan, where women don't even dare to report rape because of the taboo attached to it, our judiciary sets rapists free," tweeted Mehmal Sarfraz, a Lahore-based journalist.
Still, in the nine years since Mai took up the cause, her case has helped embolden women in Pakistan, the report said, adding that although rape is rarely reported in the country, at least 2,903 women came forward with rape complaints last year, depicting a significant increase from those recorded in 2005, according to the HRCP. (ANI)