- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Legal changes introduced by President Pervez Musharraf lie behind a decision to put four men accused of raping an 18-year-old woman on trial in an anti-terrorism court, a senior Justice Ministry official said.

In the past, "you would not even have heard of these cases," the official said in a recent interview.

About three months ago, Gen. Musharraf took several steps that proved crucial in prosecuting a June 22 gang rape that was ordered by a village council to punish members of a rival clan, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The steps involved a human rights awareness campaign combined with new powers granted to judges to act against victims considered too weak to initiate action themselves.

Under Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act, gang rape is considered an act of terrorism if the effect of the offense is "to strike terror or create a sense of fear and insecurity" in a community.

Rape is a fairly common offense in rural Pakistan, but is seldom reported because of the victim's sense of shame and a widespread belief among women that the police will take no action.

Among those outraged by the gang rape was Pakistan Chief Justice Sheik Riaz Ahmed.

Justice Ahmed intervened in the case under a legal concept known as "suo moto," a Latin term meaning "to act of one's own accord," that was introduced by Gen. Musharraf.

A suo moto order issued by Justice Ahmed set in motion action by other ranking officials, including Punjab Gov. Khalid Maqbool, a retired army lieutenant general.

Orders went down the line, landing the case finally in the hands of the highest-ranking police officer in the district.

The four men suspected of committing the rape, which was ordered in the village of Meerwala, are now being tried under Pakistan's new anti-terrorism law. In addition, 10 others who participated in the village council are being charged.

The four, Abdul Khaliq, Ghulam Farid, Faiz Mohammed and Allah Ditta, all between ages 20 and 40, have been appearing in an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan, about 240 miles southwest of Islamabad.

The public prosecutor is expected to argue that the accused rapists, all members of the powerful Matsoi clan in Meerwala village, were indeed trying to "create a sense of fear and insecurity" among the smaller and weaker Tattla clan, to which the victim belonged.

Earlier reports said the rape occurred amid attempts by the Matsoi to grab land belonging to the Tattla, and the act was seen as a bid to scare the Tattla into leaving the area.

The story created a sense of shame and shock across Pakistan.

"I touched their feet," the victim told reporters. "I wept. I even told them that I taught the Holy Koran in the village."

It also caused outrage that her father was forced to witness the rape. He told reporters later that he begged the rapists to spare her because she was a religious woman.

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