Islamabad: The Supreme Court verdict acquitting five of the six men accused of raping Mukhtaran Mai in an act of honour revenge is "deeply disappointing", said a leading Pakistani daily as it wondered "if a rape with multiple witnesses and such extensive media coverage goes unpunished, what Pakistani rape victim will try to obtain justice".
An editorial in the Dawn on Saturday said: "The Supreme Court verdict in the gang-rape case has finally been delivered and for many it is a deeply disappointing one."
Mukhtaran Mai became a symbol of the country`s oppressed women after her gang-rape on the orders of a village council in 2002.
An Anti-Terrorism Court, while acquitting eight of the 14 accused in the case, had awarded death sentence to the remaining six -- of whom five were acquitted by the Lahore High Court which also reduced the death sentence of the sixth accused, Abdul Khalique, to life imprisonment. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed the Lahore court order.
The editorial said that while no one would advocate that those charged be sentenced without sufficient evidence, "what must be kept in mind is that this is no ordinary case".
Mukhtaran Mai has "pursued the issue very publicly in a society where women suffer sexual assault in silence".
"As such, her case has become symbolic of the struggle for women`s rights in Pakistan, and the outrage expressed by human rights groups at the verdict comes as no surprise... (and) the failure to bring Mukhtaran Mai`s attackers to justice, even if doing so would require further investigation, is a bitter pill to swallow."
"The specifics of the verdict are also problematic - if a rape with multiple witnesses and such extensive media coverage goes unpunished, what Pakistani rape victim will try to obtain justice?"
It wrapped up, saying that "...this verdict will all but ensure that victims will hesitate to speak out in the future".
The Supreme Court`s verdict has "created a perception that justice was not done, and that has the potential to do serious harm to the cause of women`s rights going forward. It would be a shame if the case is not pursued further".