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Government Harassment of Mukhtar Mai: Pakistani Women's Rights Champion

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The genesis of Mukhtar Mai becoming one of Pakistan's leading women's rights and education activists was her courageous response to having been politically targeted and gang-raped by 14 men on the alleged orders of council leaders in the southern Punjab village of Meerwala in Pakistan. However, instead of suffering in silence, Ms. Mai fought back and testified in a rape case against her attackers. The case is now before the Supreme Court after a lower court granted the convicted men's appeal. Mukhtar Mai and many of her colleagues must regularly contend with harassment and pressure, including by the government, and serious threats to their lives.

It is alleged that throughout the court proceedings, Ms. Mai has faced harassment by government officials, most notably by Minister Jatoi. Mukhtar Mai asserts that in 2006, and again in 2008, Minister Jatoi visited to ask her to reach a compromise with her attackers, pressured her to drop the charges against her attackers, allegedly insisting that if she proceeded, he would ensure a verdict in favor of her attackers. Most recently, in February 2009, Minister Jatoi's associates, it is alleged, engaged in a media campaign against Ms. Mai, stating that her attackers are innocent and that the entire case is a "fraud" and a "western agenda."

As a result of Mukhtar Mai's activism, she has faced constant harassment, including from government officials. In the latest incident, on June 11, 2009, a power company raided the Mukhtar Mai Women's Welfare Organization (MMWWO), falsely accusing them of stealing electricity despite records proving they have paid all bills in full. The company proceeded to disconnect all of the electricity, also affecting hundreds of families in the surrounding area. According to witnesses to the raid, power company officials claimed that the raid was ordered by Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, the Federal Minister for Defense Production. This raid is only the most recent incident of harassment against Ms. Mai and has significantly hindered her organization's ability to carry out its important human rights work.

"Human Rights First" and similar altruistic international organizations are calling on their supporters to contact the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari and request that these allegations be thoroughly investigated. President Zardari is also being called upon to ensure that all necessary measures be taken to protect Mukhtar Mai's security before, during, and after the Supreme Court rules on the convicted men's appeal.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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