MULTAN: Pakistan on Tuesday released five men accused of gang rape after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the victim against their acquittal.
Mukhtar Mai, now 40, was gang raped in June 2002 on the orders of a village council as punishment after her younger brother was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival clan.
The boy was just 12 years old at the time of the incident in Meerwala town, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the central city of Multan.
“We are innocent, we did not commit any crime, we were jailed under foreign pressure,” said one of the accused, Faiz Bakhsh, after his release.
Supporters chanted “Long live Supreme Court” as the five were freed from the central Multan jail.
“We released them after receiving the Supreme Court order today,” superintendent of the jail, Rana Tanveer, told reporters.
The top court last week dismissed an appeal by Mai against the acquittal of the five in a case which has garnered international attention on the oppression suffered by women in Pakistan.
A local anti-terrorism court had previously sentenced six men to death, but the Lahore High Court acquitted five of them in March 2005, and commuted the sentence for the main accused, Abdul Khaliq, to life imprisonment.
The Supreme Court upheld the life sentence for Khaliq. Mai on Sunday said she would challenge the Supreme Court decision on the five.
Almost a thousand women were raped in Pakistan during 2010 while more than 2,000 were abducted and almost 1,500 murdered, according to the Aurat Foundation, an organisation working for the protection of women in the country.