Pakistan arrests head of village council over girl's rape

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RAJA PUR, Pakistan (AP) — Police on Thursday arrested the head of a village council in central Pakistan for allegedly sanctioning the rape of a teenage girl, a police spokeswoman said, as Amnesty International urged for a ban on such village councils that incite to crimes against women.

In multiple raids over two days, police also arrested 23 councilmen over the same case, according to the spokeswoman, Shabina Kareem.

The suspects all attended a July meeting in which council chief Saeed Patwari allegedly gave Mohammad Ashfaq permission to rape a 17-year-old girl to avenge the rape of his 13-year-old sister by another man, Omar Wadda. The 17-year-old is Wadda's sister.

Such "honor" crimes are still common in some rural Pakistani areas.

A village council in 2002 ordered the so-called "honor" gang rape of Mukhtar Mai, a young woman who took her rapists to court. That case gathered international prominence and she later opened a school for rural girls.

In this latest case, a regional police chief and some other officers were fired for their belated response after the first rape took place in the village of Raja Pur, near the city of Multan, on July 16. The second rape followed two days later.

"We will do justice with the both victims," said Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, during a visit to Multan.

Kareem, the police spokeswoman, said Ashfaq was still at large but Wadda has been arrested and charged with raping Ashfaq's sister.

Residents in Raja Pur stepped forward with shocking details about the council meeting and how the case of the rape was common knowledge.

Mohammad Bilal, a cousin of the 17-year-old rape victim, described how the council declined the family's request to turn to the police, instead seeking to do justice in line with traditions of the village — and order the second rape.

Bilal said some women from Wadda's family were present when the council met.

The incident angered domestic and international human right activists.

Nadia Rahman, Amnesty's campaigner in Pakistan, appealed on Islamabad to crack down on the so-called village councils that prescribe horrific crimes against women, often in revenge for acts committed by others.

She said Pakistan's failure to protect women against the arbitrary and cruel decisions of village and tribal councils had been subject of longstanding scrutiny by United Nations' human rights bodies.

Tahira Abdullah, a top human rights activist, condemned the rapes and said that what the council did was illegal. She demanded stern action against all who sanction such crimes.


Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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