"I am very happy. I am feeling highly satisfied," said an emotional Mai. (Reuters)
Additional Reporting By Umer Farooq, IOL Correspondent
ISLAMABAD, June 28, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) - Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 29, ordered the rearrest of 13 men linked to the gang rape of a woman, including members of a village council that reportedly sanctioned the assault.
"Non-bailable warrants of arrest of the respondents... are issued," Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry told the court, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The court began Monday, June 27, examining an appeal by the raped victim, Mukhtaran Mai, against the acquittal earlier this year of five of the men who are to be detained.
Chief Justice Chaudhry said the court had suspended the earlier controversial acquittals and said it would hear appeals from both Mai and the suspects at a later date.
He ordered the police inspector general in the central province of Punjab to arrest the men and hand them over to judicial custody.
"They should be treated as under-trial prisoners," Chaudhry added.
Mai was raped in June 2002 on the orders of a village council in the remote village of Meerwala as punishment for her then 12-year-old brother who was seen in the company of woman of the tribe.
The council reportedly summoned Mai to apologize for the conduct of her brother, but was instead dragged to a nearby hut and gang raped.
In August 2002, a Labour lower court sentenced six men to death and cleared eight others.
But Lahore High Court acquitted five of them on March 3 over lack of evidence and commuted the sentence of the sixth to life imprisonment.
The Federal Shari`ah Court, constituted in the mid 1980s to examine criminal and civil cases on the touch stone of Islamic Shari`ah, reversed the acquittal and declared the accused guilty.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz then ordered all 13 suspects to be locked up under the maintenance of public order act when Mai voiced fears they would harm her and her family.
However a three-judge review board of the Lahore High Court this month released them once more.
A week later, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case itself.
Pakistan has a complicated court and legal system that is based on Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.
"This is not a case of simple rape, it was an act of terrorism," said Ahsan (R). (Reuters)
Mai expressed jubilation at the rearrest order.
"I am very happy. I am feeling highly satisfied," said an emotional Mai, her head covered with a traditional blue, green and white scarf, as she embraced women's rights activists outside the court.
She has complained that her safety would be under threat if the suspects were allowed to roam free.
"I have high hopes. I hope the original verdict will be upheld and that my attackers will be punished," Mai told reporters Monday after the first day hearing.
Her lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, a renowned politician, confirmed that among those to be rearrested are members of the village council who ordered the rape.
"This is not a case of simple rape, it was an act of terrorism," he said outside the court.
"It was meant to create terror and fear in the community."
Naeem Mirza, director of women rights group the Aurat Foundation, said the decision to rearrest the suspects and suspend the acquittals was a "landmark".
"Hopefully the defects in the laws relating to crimes against women will be rectified when the Supreme Court examines this case," he told AFP.
Right from the start Mai's ordeal attracted world attention as most of the international human rights organizations condemned the crime as well as the later acquittals.
Pakistan’s NGOs and human rights bodies have also been taking keen interests in the case.
The case recently became a mud slinging match between government and NGOs, especially after President Pervez Musharraf banned Mai from traveling to the US fearing this would tarnish the country's image.
The victim, who has had her passport confiscated, still complains of severe surveillance by the government departments and police.
The travel ban drew international condemnation, particularly from human rights groups.
The US said it was "dismayed" and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice secured a personal pledge from Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri to lift the ban.
On Monday Mai said the government had finally returned her confiscated passport.