April 22, 2011


[Women’s rights advocates said the Supreme Court decision was a reflection of a flawed criminal justice system. “Mukhtar’s case was so well known, and for nine years we had been campaigning, and even then if she cannot get justice, then there is no hope for any victim,” said Farzana Bari, a rights activist in Islamabad who attended the court hearing.]

 By Salman Masood 

Ms. Mukhtar Mai. An AP photo
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Supreme Court announced Thursday that it would uphold the acquittals of five of the six men accused in the gang rape of Mukhtar Mai, the woman who gained international recognition and emerged as a symbol of voiceless and oppressed women inPakistan.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Shakirullah Jan, upheld a decision by the Lahore High Court and acquitted five of the accused in a judgment that rested on flaws in the prosecution’s account of the rape and discrepancies in Ms. Mukhtar’s statements during initial investigations.
The five men who were acquitted have been jailed for years already in connection with the rape, which occurred in 2002, and are expected to be released this week. The sixth, Abdul Khaliq, is to complete a life sentence.
Ms. Mukhtar was raped on the orders of the village council in Meerwala, a dusty farming village in Punjab Province in a case that jolted the country and ignited international outrage.
The rape was said to be a punishment for her younger brother’s supposed illicit relations with a woman from a rival tribe, the Mastoi. Later police investigations found that the boy had been molested by three Mastoi tribesmen and that the accusation against him had been a cover-up.
Ms. Mukhtar became a cause célèbre among human rights advocates after she spoke out against the crime, and her ensuing legal struggle became a source of strength and inspiration for rape victims. She also set up two schools in her village.
“I am deeply upset by the decision of the Supreme Court,” she said by telephone from Meerwala. “Now I don’t have confidence in any court. But the court of God is bigger than any worldly court.”
She also expressed concern for her safety, saying, “The Supreme Court will be responsible if something happens to me or my family.”
Ms. Mukhtar said that she was informed of the court hearing on Wednesday night and wanted to attend it the next day, but that her lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, advised her not to. Mr. Ahsan could not be reached for comment despite repeated efforts.
“He said that the court would already have made up its mind, and there was little use in my traveling through the night to reach Islamabad,” she said.
Ms. Mukhtar appeared to be resigned to the decision. “I leave everything in the court of God,” she said.
The legal battle took many twists and turns in the past nine years. Fourteen men were initially charged in the case in 2002, and six — the leader of the village council, a council member and the four men accused of carrying out the rape — were convicted and sentenced to death that year.
In March 2005, the Lahore High Court overturned the convictions of five of the men and commuted the death sentence of the sixth to life in prison.
Women’s rights advocates said the Supreme Court decision was a reflection of a flawed criminal justice system. “Mukhtar’s case was so well known, and for nine years we had been campaigning, and even then if she cannot get justice, then there is no hope for any victim,” said Farzana Bari, a rights activist in Islamabad who attended the court hearing.
The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch expressed dismay at the decision, saying in a statement that it was “a setback for Mukhtar Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women and the cause of an independent rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan.”
But some lawyers disagreed with the criticism and said that the bench included two of the finest judges of the Supreme Court, who ruled on the basis of the evidence before them.
“Part of the problem is that there were certain statements that Ms. Mukhtar made and later denied, but police officers had recorded them,” said Feisal H. Naqvi, a prominent lawyer. “There were certain discrepancies between her statements originally and her statement subsequently.”
While one judge might overlook the discrepancies, another might feel obliged to disqualify the evidence, Mr. Naqvi said. “It is a judgment that I disagree with,” he said, “but it is not a judgment that I disrespect.”


[The unusually strident back and forth reflected the poor state of relations between the two counterterrorism allies, which sunk to new lows after an American CIA contractor in January shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.]

By Associated Press, 

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani army on Thursday rejected what it called “negative propaganda” by the United States, hours after the top U.S. military officer accused the country’s spy agency of continued links to a powerful Afghan Taliban faction.

The unusually strident back and forth reflected the poor state of relations between the two counterterrorism allies, which sunk to new lows after an American CIA contractor in January shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.

While officials from both nations have raised the level of rhetoric, they have also spoken of the need to keep the partnership intact. Washington needs Pakistani support, even if not as whole hearted as it would like, to be able to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this summer, while Islamabad relies heavily on U.S civilian and military aid.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, said Wednesday he would bring up the issue of Pakistan’s ties to the militant Haqqani network when he saw Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani later the same day in Islamabad.

The Haqqani network is a largely independent Afghan Taliban faction with bases in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region just across the border from Afghanistan. It is considered one of the most lethal forces battling U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s military-run Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency has links to the network’s leaders that date back to the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the group was also supported by Washington. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pakistan has insisted it has cut those ties.

Still, many analysts and U.S. officials suspect Islamabad may be trying to maintain its links to the Haqqanis so that it can use them as a means of retaining influence in Afghanistan — and keeping a bulwark against archrival India — after the Americans leave.

“The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network, that doesn’t mean everybody in the ISI but it’s there ... I believe over time that has got to change,” Mullen said in the GEO TV interview.

In a statement issued after meeting with Mullen, Kayani did not mention the Haqqanis, and said both sides were determined to keep their relationship intact.

The statement said Kayani told Mullen that he “strongly rejects negative propaganda (about) Pakistan not doing enough”.

He also said the army’s multiple offensives against insurgent groups in the northwest are evidence of Pakistan’s “national resolve to defeat terrorism.”

Kayani also slammed the ongoing U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan. Those strikes often hit North Waziristan, where the Haqqanis are based and the one tribal region along the Afghan border where the army has not staged an offensive despite U.S. pleas.

Pakistan has long denounced the drone-fired missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but it is widely believed to secretly cooperate with at least some of the attacks. But in mid-March, Kayani issued a rare statement denouncing one such attack after it killed nearly 40 people. A U.S. official said the target was justified, but Kayani said dozens of innocent tribesmen died.

That strike came the day after the American CIA contractor Raymond Davis was released after compensation was paid to the families of the victims. The Davis case badly strained relations, with Pakistan refusing to take a stand on whether Davis had diplomatic immunity from prosecution as the U.S. embassy claimed.

Late Thursday, a bomb blast inside an illegal gambling den in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi killed at least 15 people, officials said.

The blast tore through a club in a violent corner of Karachi when scores of people were playing cards and other gambling games, said police officer Irshad Sehar. He said it was not immediately clear whether the bomb was planted or thrown.

Provincial health minister Sagheer Ahmed said 15 people were killed and 35 injured. He said the perpetrators were likely “criminal or mafia elements,” not militants.

Karachi, a lawless city of around 16 million, often sees violent attacks by criminal and political gangs over the control of illegal businesses and protection rackets. Islamist militants have also carried several attacks there in recent years.

The Earth Day Today:

By Christina Wallace
The movement to expand the bottle bill to include a 5-cent deposit on water, sports drinks and other beverages is gaining momentum, with more than 160 cities and towns passing a resolution in support of the measure.

Last week, the Boston City Council voted to back the bill, following in the footsteps of Brookline, which approved the resolution in March. The bill has been languishing on Beacon Hill since it was introduced in 1996 and is awaiting a hearing date for this legislative session.

Gov. Deval Patrick has also come out in favor of the bill, claiming the deposit will motivate more people to recycle and save cities and towns millions of dollars in disposal costs annually. Currently, water, juice and sports drinks make up more than 30 percent of the state’s beverage consumption, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

However, several groups are against the proposed law, including the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents supermarkets. The association argues it is costly and a health concern to bring additional used bottles that contain waste and other bacteria into food stores.

“Members tell us about finding liquid in the cans, vermin, bugs, needles — all sorts of things that aren’t conducive to running a food store,” said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association.

Nickel deposits

In addition to expanding the 5-cent deposit to water, juice and other beverages, the bill calls for the reinstatement of the Clean Environment Fund, which directs the state to use all forfeited deposits for environmental and recycling initiatives.

“The bottle bill is the single most successful recycling tool in the state. This will reduce litter and expand recycling.” –Janet Domenitz, executive director of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group.