Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Abuse of rape victim by the Pakistan government

Thank God for Nicholas Kristof. I pray that Pakistan will face up to itself;
this should help if anything will. Best, RLC

Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced
New York Times: June 14, 2005

No wonder the Pakistan government can't catch Osama bin Laden. It is too busy
harassing, detaining - and now kidnapping - a gang-rape victim for daring to
protest and for planning a visit to the United States.

Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal
council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly
committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders
forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing
of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her
persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was
through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in
her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to
enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no

Readers of my column sent in more than $133,000 for her. Mercy Corps, a U.S. aid
organization, has helped her administer the money, and she has expanded the
schools, started a shelter for abused women and bought a van that is used as an
ambulance for the area. She has also emerged as a ferocious spokeswoman against
honor killings, rapes and acid attacks on women. (If you want to help her,
please don't send checks to me but to Mercy Corps, with "Mukhtaran Bibi" in the
memo line: 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201.)

A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting
this Saturday (see www.4anaa.org). Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government
went berserk.

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her
from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that
when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence
her, the police cut off her land line.

After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her
life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not
normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up.
Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn
yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since.
Her cellphone doesn't answer.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad,
furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with
her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from
contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

"She's in their custody, in illegal custody," Ms. Jahangir said. "They have gone
completely crazy."

Even if Ms. Mukhtaran were released, airports have been alerted to bar her from
leaving the country. According to Dawn, a Karachi newspaper, the government took
this step, "fearing that she might malign Pakistan's image."

Excuse me, but Ms. Mukhtaran, a symbol of courage and altruism, is the best hope
for Pakistan's image. The threat to Pakistan's image comes from President
Musharraf for all this thuggish behavior.

I've been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence,
partly because he's cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has
done a good job nurturing Pakistan's economic growth, which in the long run is
probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied
me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and
writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.

But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.

"This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get
away with murder," Ms. Jahangir said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was
happening, President Bush received Pakistan's foreign minister in the White
House and praised President Musharraf's "bold leadership."

So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead
of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval
Office - to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power,
but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.

Please see my "concerns" page:
My blog: http://rcanfield.blogspot.com