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Mai in death plea for rapists

Islamabad, June 27 (Reuters): A Pakistani woman gangraped in 2002 on the orders of a village council said today she hoped the country’s Supreme Court would reimpose death sentences on the men who attacked her.

The Supreme Court began hearing an appeal by the woman, Mukhtaran Mai, against the acquittal of five of six men convicted in the assault.

“I expect the same decision as was given by the special court,” Mai said in the Supreme Court before the session began, referring to the conviction of the men.

Six men were originally convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, but five were later acquitted after appealing to a high court in Punjab province, which cited a lack of evidence. A sixth had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Mai, 33, was gangraped on the orders of a traditional village council after her brother ' who was 12 at the time ' was judged to have offended the honour of a powerful clan by befriending a woman from the tribe. Feudal and tribal laws still hold sway in many rural parts of predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

The rape provoked a national outcry and focused international attention on the treatment of women in rural Pakistan. The Supreme Court in Islamabad was crowded with Mai’s supporters including members of non-governmental organisations. Several foreigners were also in attendance. Clad in a salwar kameez with a pink shawl over her head, a frail-looking Mai sat quietly in the court throughout the session.

Mai’s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said he believed that there was “substantial evidence” to corroborate the crime against the accused.

“Our case is that the high court in acquitting has misappreciated and misread the evidence,” Ahsan said at the end of today’s session. “We feel we have a strong case,” he said.

“We do not want the matter to be prolonged... we want the Supreme Court to re-appraise the evidence and give the judgment on the basis of that.”

The three-judge Supreme Court bench discussed procedural issues today before adjourning the session. The hearing will resume tomorrow. The six convicted men, and another six men who served on the village council and were detained, were ordered released by the Punjab high court this month although they remain in detention.

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