| Mukhtaran Mai outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad. (Reuters)
Islamabad, June 28 (Reuters): Pakistanís Supreme Court today ordered the re-arrest of 13 men accused of involvement in the gangrape of a woman in 2002, pending the outcome of the rape victimís appeal in the high-profile case.
The rape of Mukhtaran Mai and the subsequent acquittal of five of the six men convicted of attacking her provoked an international outcry and focused attention on the plight of women in rural Pakistan.
Mai is appealing in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of the men by a provincial court in March.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench today suspended the ruling of the provincial high court overturning the convictions and ordered the arrest of all of the accused.
ďThey shall be treated as under-trial prisoners,Ē said Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Pakistanís acting chief justice, in a brief order.
Mai, 33, was gangraped on the orders of the 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 areas of predominantly Muslim Pakistan. Six men were originally convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, but five were acquitted after appealing to a high court in Punjab province, which cited a lack of evidence.
The sixth man had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The other five have remained in detention despite the March ruling overturning their conviction.
In her appeal to the Supreme Court, Mai had also called for the trial of eight men who served on the village council that ordered her to be raped. They have also been in detention for several months.
Mai sat quietly through the court proceedings but reacted with excitement as her supporters explained the courtís decision.
ďIím very happy. God willing, justice will be done in future as well,Ē she said as she hugged her supporters including members of non-governmental organisations.
Human rights workers had wanted Mai to go abroad to speak on the plight of women but the government, saying it was acting in the interest of her security, recently banned her from overseas travel and seized her passport.
Following protests from various quarters, including the US government, the ban was lifted and Mai said the government returned her passport on Sunday, although she said had no immediate plans to travel abroad.
A US state department spokesman said last week said that secretary of state Condoleezza Rice raised the matter of Maiís freedom to travel with Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri. President Pervez Musharraf, who has been trying to project Pakistan as a moderate and progressive Muslim nation, has taken a personal interest in Maiís case, saying it was tarnishing the country's image overseas.