Islamabad: Close on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling upholding acquittal of five of the six men accused of raping Mukhtar Mai, Pakistan government on Friday said it would provide security and legal aid to the victim, who has emerged as the symbol of a movement for women's rights.
Responding to a point of order in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani has given him directives to provide security to Mai and look into the matter.
Earlier, senior PPP leader and former minister Sherry Rehman raised a point of order and said Mai had been fighting for justice from the past nine years and only one of the men accused of raping her was given life imprisonment while the rest were acquitted.
She called on the government to file a review petition on behalf of Mai and provide her security as she had expressed concerns about threats to her life following the acquittal of the accused by the Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court's verdict yesterday.
Senior PPP leader Farahnaz Ispahani, a close aide of party chief and President Asif Ali Zardari, said in a message posted on Twitter that Zardari had "requested the government to look into" the Mai case.
In 2002, Mai was a seamstress in Meerwala, a small village in Punjab province, when her 12-year-old brother was falsely accused of having an affair with a woman from a powerful clan. To avenge the woman's honour, the village council ordered her gang-rape.
In June 2002, a case was filed under an Islamic law and the Anti-Terrorism Act against 14 suspects, including two members of the village council.
In August the same year, a lower court in Punjab awarded the death sentence to six of the accused, including the two village council members, and acquitted the other eight suspects.
In March 2005, the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court acted on an appeal filed by the accused and struck down the lower court's order.
It acquitted five of the six accused and converted the death sentence give to Abdul Khaliq, one of the main accused, to life imprisonment.
The Supreme Court then took suo motu notice of the High Court's verdict and began hearing the case.
Yesterday, it ordered that the accused who had been acquitted should be immediately freed if they were not wanted in any other cases.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Shakirullah Jan upheld the life sentence given to Khaliq.
The verdict has been criticised by Mai, rights activists and civil society groups.