A Pakistani woman who was gang-raped on the orders of a village council launched an appeal yesterday before Pakistan's Supreme Court against a ruling that acquitted five of her alleged attackers, her lawyer said.
Mukhtar Mai, 36, has won international praise for speaking out against her June 2002 assault that highlighted brutal forms of tribal justice still prevalent in parts of Pakistan. Rights activists have accused the government of trying to silence her.
Fearing bad publicity for the Islamic nation, President General Pervez Musharraf recently barred Mai from visiting the US to talk about her case -- drawing strong criticism from Washington that prompted the government to lift the travel ban.
Mai came from her native Meerwala village, about 560km to the southwest of Islamabad, to attend yesterday's hearing. She told reporters she expected the nation's highest court to reinstate the conviction of her attackers.
"I am expecting the Supreme Court to give the same kind of ruling that was given by the special court," Mai, a yellow shawl covering her head, said outside the courtroom as she waited for her case to come up.
In June 2002, a council of elders in Meerwala ordered Mai's rape -- punishing her for her 13-year-old brother's alleged affair with another woman.
Mai contends that allegation was made up to cover up a sexual assault against the boy by men from the woman's Mastoi clan.
Eschewing a culture of shame that often surrounds rape victims in Pakistan, Mai spoke out, leading to the conviction of six men, who were sentenced to death over the attack. Eight others were acquitted.
But in March the High Court overturned the convictions of five of the men, and reduced the death sentence of the sixth to life in prison, citing a lack of evidence.
Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer for Mai, said that she also was appealing the verdicts for the eight men who were acquitted in trial court.
An appeal by Abdul Khaliq, the man facing life in prison, also was to be heard by the court yesterday, his lawyer Malik Salim said.
Since her assault, Mai has become a prominent women's rights activist. Although she grew up illiterate herself, Mai has helped set up a school for girls in her village, mainly with donations from supporters, many of them in the US.
Before leaving for Islamabad on Sunday, Mai reiterated complaints that police were shadowing her, which authorities claim is for her own protection.
"Are free people like this? I am not being allowed to speak with people," Mai told reporters at the airport in the city of Multan, surrounded by dozens of police.
Mai had planned to travel to the US at the invitation of a nongovernment group to talk about her case earlier this month, but was blocked by the Pakistan government.
On a recent trip overseas, Musharraf said he personally ordered the travel ban on Mai because foreign groups wanted her "to bad-mouth Pakistan" over the "terrible state" of the nation's women. He said it was an unfair perception of the country.
The ban drew a stinging rebuke from Washington -- a strong supporter of the Pakistani military leader for his help in its war on terrorism.
Yesterday, Mai said the government had returned her passport, but she hadn't yet decided if she again planned to travel abroad.