Pakistanis charged with gang rape
DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan -- Four men have been charged in a Pakistani court of gang-raping a woman on the orders of a tribal council.
Shackled in handcuffs and chained together, the four and their co-accused were led into the courtroom in the center of Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab on Friday, Reuters news agency said.
Ten other men were charged with involvement in the case during the opening day of the trial and a policeman accused of negligence may be tried in a separate court, prosecution lawyers told the agency.
The case, which has made headlines around the world, outraged much of Pakistan and threw the spotlight on the country's tribal courts, where women are stuck in the middle of feudal disputes driven by honor and revenge.
This year alone, dozens of rapes and "honor" killings of women have been registered in Punjab, with women slain by fathers, brothers and husbands for "crimes," including failing to conceive a child and refusing to become a prostitute.
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But in the case currently being heard in the Pakistani court, elders are alleged to have ordered rape as punishment for an alleged affair between the girl's younger brother and a woman from a tribe considered higher caste, the Matsoi clan.
Government prosecutor Ramzan Khalid Joiya told Reuters: "This incident was shocking for people in general."
The girl's father said he was forced to witness the incident in the village of Meerwala in the southern Punjab province while begging for it not to happen.
The defense denies that the tribal council, or panchayat, ordered the rape.
Mukhtaran Mai, a 30-year-old divorcee, says she was repeatedly raped after approaching the tribal council in Meerwala to settle the family dispute.
Parts of Pakistan still have a tradition of tribal justice where some crimes are punished outside the framework of the Pakistani legal system.
Mai, from the poorer Gujar family, says she pleaded with the Mastoi men to free her brother, who was kidnapped after they accused him of having an illicit affair.
While teenager Abdul Shakur denied the accusation, three Mastoi men, none of them involved in the current trial, sodomized him, wire reports quoted the Gujar family as saying.
She begged the council for mercy, but instead four men raped her and made her walk home semi-naked in front of hundreds of people, according to the prosecution.
The four men -- Abdul Khaliq, Ghulam Farid, Faiz Mohammad and Allah Ditta, aged between 20 and 40 -- have denied the charges against them.
If found guilty they face the death penalty.
"None of the...accused is guilty," defense lawyer Malik Mohammad Saleem, told Reuters on Friday.
This is a case of 'hang them first, try them later'," his aide added. "There was not a single eyewitness to the rape."
They also challenge the medical evidence, saying tests on the woman were taken too long after the date she said she was raped to be accurate.
The trial, which is being held behind closed doors, is predicted to last about four days. The case was adjourned until Monday.
Earlier this month, Pakistan's Supreme Court criticized local police, accusing them of negligence for failing to arrest the men immediately after the rape was carried out on June 22.
Police reportedly took more than a week to even register a case, and only then after being pressed to do so by a delegation of lawyers.
Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, ordered the equivalent of $8,000 in compensation be paid to the girl and her family.
He has also said a school will be built in the girl's village bearing and will be named after her.
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