Women and Children

Pakistan Lifts Travel Ban on Rape Victim

Islamabad, Pakistan, June 15 - Pakistan lifted today a travel restriction on Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was gang-raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council to punish an act attributed to her brother.

Mukhtar Mai, also known as Mukhtaran Bibi, had been scheduled to travel to the United States last week at the invitation of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

But her name turned up on the government roster of people barred from traveling abroad. The travel restriction met with bitter protests and condemnation by human rights advocates.

The Pakistani interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, announced today in the national parliament that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had ordered that Ms. Mukhtar's name be removed from the travel ban list.

"She is free to go anywhere and there is no restriction on her movement," Mr. Sherpao said. He also said there had been no pressure from the United States to lift the travel ban.

But concerns over the case remain. Greg Crouch, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Islamabad, said in a telephone interview: "The U.S. government remains concerned about the treatment and restrictions on Mukhtar Mai. We have made our concerns known to the Pakistani government."

On Tuesday, Ms. Mukhtar was brought to Islamabad, the capital, where she addressed a hurriedly called news conference. She said she did not want to go abroad because her mother was ill. Human rights advocates said the news conference had been orchestrated by the government.

Today, Ms. Mukhtar also met with officials from the United States Embassy, Mr. Crouch said. But no details were given. "For privacy reasons we don't comment on private cases," Mr. Crouch said. He also declined to comment on whether her passport had been returned or if she had expressed any desire to travel to the United States soon. Pakistan media reported that Ms. Mukhtar's passport had been returned without a United States visa.

The gang-rape of Ms. Mukhtar, now in her early 30's, was ordered in June 2002 by a council in Meerwala, a dusty farming village in the southern part of Punjab Province.

The rape was decreed as a punishment after her younger brother was accused of having illicit sexual relations with a woman of a rival tribe, the Mastoi.

The circumstances of the rape brought demands for justice, and the government moved quickly to bring the case to trial. Since then, there have been various acquittals, detentions and releases. Last week, a provincial court released the 12 men who were behind bars in the case.

Ms. Mukhtar, who has been hailed for speaking out against the rape and setting up schools for boys and girls with the compensation money, had been expected to talk of her experiences since the rape if she had traveled to the United States.

This, human rights advocates say, made the Pakistan government uneasy because she could expose legal loopholes and injustices, but the government denies that was the reason. Government ministers have lashed out at nongovernment organizations and human rights advocates claiming that they have exploited the case for financial gains and have tarnished the country's image.

The state interior minister, Dr. Shahzad Wasim, denounced the government critics as "vultures, crows and kites sitting on the fence to exploit the case and get foreign funding."