Pakistani court frees convicted rapist after ‘agreement’ to marry his victim

Islamabad, Pakistan

A Pakistani court released a convicted rapist on Monday after it was ‘agreed’ that he would marry his victim, his lawyer said, angering rights activists who say the decision risks normalizing sexual violence in this South Asian country.

Daulat Khan, 23, was convicted in May of raping the deaf woman, 36, in 2020 in the northeastern district of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to his lawyer Amjad Ali Khan.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 rupees (about 440 dollars), said the lawyer, who is not related to his client.

The woman then gave birth to a child as a result of the rape, the lawyer added.

The Peshawar High Court on Monday acquitted Daulat Khan after the two were legally wed earlier in December following an out-of-court settlement reached by a local ‘jirga’ – a council of elderly men who take Sharia-based decisions.

Sharia – also known as Islamic law – is an interpretation of sacred texts and faith traditions that varies widely across the Muslim world.

Swat is a predominantly rural and conservative district, ruled by deep-rooted, often brutal and misogynistic patriarchs. attitudes remain predominant. In 2012, activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban in Swat for defying their orders by going to school.

It is not uncommon for a jirga to settle cases in many parts of Pakistan over so-called taboo issues such as childbirth out of wedlock. Critics have long accused the jirga of perpetuating a culture of victim-shaming, particularly on issues of rape and sexual assault.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called the Peshawar court’s verdict a “gross violation of the law” and a “miscarriage of justice”.

“The HRCP urges the state to appeal the decision and uphold its commitment to women’s rights,” it said in a statement.

In 2021, more than 5,200 women reported being raped in Pakistan, according to an HRCP report, but activists say the number could be much higher as the crime is often underreported out of fear.

In Pakistan, the problem is compounded by corruption in the courts and among the police, experts say.

According to Legal Aid Society, a non-governmental organization that provides legal aid to disadvantaged people, around 60% of rape victims withdraw their complaints, mainly due to a lack of autonomy from the country’s badly broken justice system.

In December 2020, Pakistan toughened its rape laws to create special courts to try cases within four months and provide medical examinations for women within six hours of filing a complaint.

But campaigners say Pakistan continues to fail its women and has no national law criminalizing domestic violence, leaving many vulnerable to assault.

In February, the brother of murdered social media star Qandeel Baloch was freed by a Pakistani appeals court, three years after he was found guilty of killing her for “disgracing” the family.

So-called “honour killings” in Pakistan usually involve the killing of a woman by a relative who thinks she has brought shame on the family. At the time of Baloch’s murder, Pakistani law allowed the victim’s family to pardon a convicted murderer.

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