PAKISTAN. TOP ISLAMIC COURT THROWS OUT GANGRAPE ACQUITTAL
March 11, 2005: Pakistan's top Islamic court, the Federal Shariat Court based in Islamabad, threw out the acquittal of five people convicted of raping a woman on the orders of a tribal village jury.
The court summoned the five men whose August 2002 death sentence was overturned on March 3, saying the high court had no jurisdiction to have heard such an appeal. The court also summoned the gang rape victim, Mukhtiar Mai, and the government's provincial prosecutor in central Punjab province.
"In the first place the appeal against convictions could not be legally entertained by a high court as the Shariat Court was the right forum for it under the country's Islamic Hudood Laws related to crimes such as rape," said legal expert Babar Awan.
Mai, now 33, was raped for more than an hour in the village of Meerwala in Punjab province in June 2002, as punishment for her brother's alleged affair with a woman of a powerful rival clan. She was then forced to walk home naked before her father was finally able to cover her with a blanket. Mai's case shocked the country and sparked international outrage. Two months later an anti-terrorist court in Punjab province sentenced six men to death by hanging and acquitted another eight defendants. However lawyers said on March 3 that five people had been acquitted, while a sixth had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The court also rejected an appeal by Mai against the earlier eight acquittals.
Legal experts said the action by the Shariat Court implied that the Lahore High Court's acquittal decision would stand automatically suspended.
"The action by the Shariat Court means the acquittal judgment stands annulled," Awan, a leading lawyer and head of private Federal Human Rights Commission, said.
The Shariat court, set up in the 1980s during the reign of late military dictator General Ziaul Haq, works as a constitutional forum for dealing with issues in the light of Islamic Sharia law, but appeals against its decisions lie with the country's Supreme Court. (Sources: Agence France Presse, 11/03/2005)