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Justice Overturned
In the remote desert villages of Pakistan beyond the reach of government courts, tribal law is often the only adjudicator of local disputes — and the use of rape to settle scores is common. In June 2002, 30-year-old Mukhtar Mai was publicly raped by four volunteers in the hamlet of Meerwala in central Pakistan on the orders of village elders. She had committed no crime: her 12-year-old brother had been accused of walking with a girl from the higher Mastoi caste, and Mai was chosen to bear the punishment for her family. Victims of such assaults are expected to suffer in silence — or kill themselves out of shame — but despite threats of violence, Mai pressed charges against her alleged assailants, becoming an icon in the fight to eliminate such barbaric tribal customs. (TIME named her one of Asia’s Heroes last year for her defiance.)

A conventional court sentenced six men to death in August 2002 for ordering and carrying out the gang rape, and Mai used the $8,300 awarded to her by the government to open a village school. But last Thursday, an appeals court

Franck Prevel/AP

One of the accused outside the Angers court

overturned the verdict against the men accused of raping Mai, citing a lack of evidence and a poor investigation by the prosecution. Her lawyer, Rashid Rehman, claimed that the investigators had been pressured by the Mastoi. Five of the accused walked free while the other had his sentence commuted to life in prison. “I am in pain,” Mai said afterward. “I will ask my lawyer to challenge the decision.”

Human-rights groups have condemned the ruling: I.A. Rehman, director of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says the trial “brought disgrace to Pakistan’s justice system.” With the release of the men who allegedly abused her, Mai’s troubles may be beginning all over again. Says human-rights activist Rehman: “The freed men will now be thirsting for revenge against Mai and her family.” Unbowed, Mai intends to keep teaching at the schoolhouse she built. The larger lessons of her traumatic experience, however, seem to have gone unlearned. — By Tim McGirk

Lessons in Law
BRITAIN A 16-year-old Muslim schoolgirl won the right to wear the all-enveloping jilbab in class, with London’s Court of Appeal ruling that a ban on the garment by her school in central England was an infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights. But legal experts predicted that the judgment will have no effect on a ban in France on students displaying conspicuous symbols of religious faith, as the European Court of Human Rights tends to leave such decisions to individual governments.

Eloquent in Death
AZERBAIJAN Thousands of opposition supporters attended the funeral of murdered journalist Elmar Huseynov in Baku, despite a warning from President Ilham Aliyev against turning the event into an antigovernment protest. Huseynov, editor of the weekly magazine Monitor, and an outspoken critic of the government, was gunned down outside his apartment in what the Council of Europe called an “attack on freedom of

Standing Ground
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO The United Nations Security Council issued a statement supporting the actions of U.N. troops who killed more than 50 militiamen in a gunfight in the northeastern Ituri region. U.N. officials said the peacekeepers were fired on first and acted in self-defense. The militia was thought to be responsible for slaying nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers a week earlier.

More Brinkmanship
NORTH KOREA The government announced that it no longer felt bound by a self-imposed 1999 moratorium on long-range missile testing, and blamed the “hostile policy” of the U.S. toward Pyongyang for compelling it to boost its “self-defensive nuclear arsenal.” The move came amid ongoing efforts to persuade North Korea to rejoin six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear standoff with Washington.

Cut the Grass
No more munchies for Swiss farm animals now that a law banning the use of hemp as fodder has come into force. The ban was prompted by fears that traces of cannabis, which is derived from the plant, might find their way into milk and other dairy products. There’s no word on the effect on sales of Swiss chocolate.

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