ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 11 -- Pakistan's highest Islamic court Friday threw out the acquittals of five men convicted of raping a woman on orders from a village council, saying a lower appeals court had no jurisdiction to rule on the case.
The decision by the Federal Shariat Court was welcomed by the attorney for Mukhtar Mai, 33, who said she was raped by a group of men in 2002 after elders in her village ordered the attack as punishment for her teenage brother's alleged affair with a woman.
Pakistani women rallied in Multan on Monday to call for protection for Mukhtar Mai, who was raped in 2002 on orders from elders in her village.
(Khalid Tanveer -- AP)
"We welcome the decision, and we know our case is strong," said Ramzan Khalid Joya, Mai's lawyer. An attorney for the men, Mohammed Yaqub, said he had not had time to review the decision and declined to comment.
Six men were sentenced to death for the rapes in 2002, but on March 3, the sentences of five were overturned. The sentence of the sixth man was reduced to life in prison. Mai, who has won praise for her bravery in coming forward to denounce the attack, wept as that ruling was read.
The appeals court decision produced a firestorm of criticism from human rights groups in Pakistan and around the world. Thousands of Pakistani women rallied in Multan this week demanding protection for Mai, who said she feared the men would seek revenge if released.
The Federal Shariat Court ruled on technical grounds that the Multan tribunal had no authority to hear the case, saying it alone had the power to rule on appeals in rape cases. The Shariat Court works separately from the normal legal system but has the power to overturn decisions involving Islamic law.
The court did not indicate when it would hear the appeal. All six men remain in jail.
Babar Awan, a senior advocate in Islamabad, said the ruling effectively annulled the Multan court's decision.
Mai denies that her 13-year-old brother had illicit relations with the woman. She says the village council's decision to order her rape was made to cover up a sexual assault on the boy by men from the locally powerful Mastoi clan.