The Supreme Court of Pakistan has acquitted five of six men who earlier had been convicted of gang-raping a woman named Mukhtaran Mai in a case that became an international sensation.
The sixth man in the case had his death penalty commuted to life imprisonment.
The court ordered the immediate release of the other five men.
Mai, who was raped in 2002 in Muzaffargarh district on orders of her village council, unwittingly became a prominent women’s rights champion in Pakistan when she decided to speak out about her ordeal.
She had been sexually assaulted in retaliation for her brother allegedly having an affair with a woman from the Mastoi clan, which brought shame and dishonor to the entire clan.
Instead of committing suicide (as many Pakistani rape victims do) she embarked on a legal crusade to bring her attackers to justice.
Mai is now distraught by the court’s decision and now says she fears for her life.
The police never even recorded my own statements correctly, she said, according to BBC.
I don't have any more faith in the courts. I have put my faith in God's judgment now. I don't know what the legal procedure is, but my faith [in the system] is gone. Yes, there is a threat to me and my family. There is a threat of death, and even of the same thing happening again. Anything can happen.
Ali Dayan Hassan, South Asia researcher of Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the verdict sends very bad signal across Pakistan.
It suggests women can be abused and even raped with impunity and those perpetrating such crimes can walk, Hassan told reporters. This is a setback for Mukhtaran Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women and the cause of an independent, rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan.
Mai now runs a school for girls in her native village in the eastern Punjab province.
Life and death are in the hands of Allah... I will not shut my school and other projects, she told Reuters. I'm disappointed. Why was I made to wait for five years if this decision was to be given?