Thousands of women rallied in eastern Pakistan on Monday to demand justice and protection for a woman who said she was gang-raped at the direction of a village council, after a court ordered the release of her alleged attackers.
The victim, Mukhtar Mai, also attended the rally in Multan, a major city in the eastern province of Punjab.
Waving signs and chanting, the demonstrators, many of them from nearby villages, joined the rally. Organizer Farzana Bari said more than 3,000 women were at the event.
“We will fight for justice for Mukhtar Mai,” the women chanted during the rally, while others carried placards reading: “Give protection to Mukhtar Mai.”
Some 200 policemen observed the demonstration, which ended peacefully.
In June 2002, Mai said she was raped by four men on the orders of a village council that wanted to punish her family.
Mai’s brother was accused of having sex with a woman from a more prominent family, though Mai’s family says the allegations were fabricated to cover up a sexual assault against the boy by several men.
Mai, a 33-year-old school teacher, went public about her ordeal, drawing international media attention to widespread crimes against women in ultraconservative Pakistan. The government also pledged to track down her attackers.
A court later sentenced six men to death for Mai’s rape.
An appeals court overturned the convictions of five of the men last week, citing lack of evidence, and reduced the other man’s sentence to life in prison.
The government and Mai, who has expressed fears the acquitted men might target her for revenge, have said they will appeal to the Supreme Court.
Bari said her group, Pattan, a charity working with women in rural communities, will stand by Mai until she gets justice.
“We are with every woman who is oppressed and who faces injustices,” Bari said.