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Another Pakistani rape victim seeks justice

KARACHI, Wednesday (AFP) Her ordeal at the hands of five rapists was harrowing enough, she says. But the medieval-style tribal justice system that lives on in parts of Pakistan made what happened next even worse.

"I may not be able to speak much to you but my life is in danger. I don't know why this happened to me, but my life has been destroyed," 33-year-old Mariam Bano says in a hasty telephone call from a secret location.

Bano says she was gang raped in July in Ayub Goth, a dusty, down-at-heel village on the eastern outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan's teeming largest city.

The case went before a traditional council of tribal elders - officially banned in Pakistan but still widespread - who pardoned the alleged rapists on condition that they paid a fine, and then told her to remain silent.

She and her family refused to accept the judgment and reported it to police. The alleged head of the council, Hussain Bux Chandio, was arrested a few weeks ago but then released by a magistrate in Karachi.

Police this week rearrested him along with one of the alleged rapists, named as Asmatullah Chandio. But Mariam and her husband Rasheed Chandio are running scared.

"I tried to kill myself when a court released Hussain Bux and I was asked to remain silent, but police foiled my attempt," says Mariam, who says she is now moving from hiding place to hiding place on an almost daily basis. Police say the couple have received threats from unidentified sources. Mariam and Rasheed will not confirm this, but say they are afraid they could be targeted by the rapists or by local tribesmen for not keeping quiet.

It is the second time this year that the atavistic version of justice dished out by tribes in conservative, strictly Islamic Pakistan has come under an unflattering spotlight.

Bano's case has similarities with that of Mukhtaran Mai, who won worldwide acclaim from rights groups for pursuing justice after she was gang raped on the orders of another tribal council in 2002.

Most women remain silenced by fear and the notions of honour and shame that still leave rape victims ostracised in Pakistan, but Mai faced up to her attackers in court and six were sentenced to death three years ago.



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