By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: It was a blatant disregard of an international outcry over the acquittal of all but one gang-rape accused in the Mukhtar Mai case when a discussion on the issue was blocked in the National Assembly on Friday, though the government promised to provide whatever security and help were needed by the famous victim.
PPP lawmaker and rights activist Sherry Rehman told the house the victim-turned-women’s rights activist, who she said she had spoken to, had probably lost hope after the Supreme Court verdict on Friday and needed government protection from her influential detractors and help in filing a review petition.
After the former PPP information minister apparently cut her speech short on being told by Acting Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi that house rules disallowed a discussion on the conduct of a high court or the Supreme Court, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had already received instructions from Prime Minister Gilani to provide protection to Mukhtar Mai, and that “any assistance” she needed would be given.
After the chair’s warning, no other member from either the opposition or treasury benches tried to speak on the latest development.
An anti-terrorist court in August 2002 had sentenced six men to death — four for raping and two for their role in the panchayat — and acquitted eight others.
Acting on separate appeals, the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court later acquitted five of the six convicts and converted the death sentence of one of them, Abdul Khaliq, to life imprisonment.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the Lahore High Court (LHC) judgment by 2-1 and discharged the apex court’s own order of March 14, 2005, under which the LHC ruling was suspended.
UNEASE ON TREASURY BENCHES: Some unease was apparent on the treasury benches when Ms Rehman began speaking on the issue on a point of order just as the prime minister too arrived in the house, as PPP chief whip Khurshid Ahmed Shah rushed to her desk when she stopped during the muezzin’s call for Friday prayers and apparently gave her some advice on how to go about it.
And then immediately the chair read out the relevant clause of the house rules of procedure prohibiting a debate on the conduct of a superior court.
Ms Rehman said no contempt of court was intended, “but everybody knows how this case went” on for nine years after the woman was gang-raped at Meerwala village in southern Punjab on the orders of a village panchayat, in 2002 as a punishment for an alleged affair of her bother with the woman of a powerful tribe, and how police investigations were allegedly compromised by “local influentials”.
“We respect every court, but it is our right that we realise our collective responsibility and go into an appeal so she is not left alone to do it,” she said.
She appealed to both President Asif Ali Zardari and the prime minister to “give attention” to this matter and said going into an “appeal for review is the responsibility of the PPP and the government”.
The interior minister said since Mukhtar Mai was living in the Punjab province, he would talk to the Punjab police about providing protection to her, and added: “Any assistance Mukhtar Mai wants we will provide.”