Islamabad, Pakistan () — A Pakistani court released a convicted rapist on Monday after it was “agreed” he would marry his victim, his lawyer said, angering human rights activists who say the ruling risks normalizing sexual violence. sexual violence in the South Asian country.
Daulat Khan, 23, was convicted in May of raping a 36-year-old deaf woman in 2020 in the northeastern district of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to his lawyer Amjad Ali Khan.
He was sentenced to life in prison and fined 100,000 rupees (about $440), said the lawyer, who is not related to his client.
The woman later gave birth to a boy as a result of the rape, the lawyer added.
On Monday, the Peshawar High Court acquitted Daulat Khan after the two were legally married in early December following an out-of-court settlement made by a local “jirga”, a council of elders who make decisions based on Sharia law.
Sharia law, also known as Islamic law, is an interpretation of sacred texts and faith traditions that varies widely in the Muslim world.
Swat is a largely rural and conservative district, where deep-seated, often brutal, patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes prevail. In 2012, activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban in Swat for defying her orders not to go to school.
It is not uncommon for a jirga to settle cases in many parts of Pakistan on so-called taboo subjects, such as childbirth outside of marriage. Critics have long accused the jirga of perpetuating a culture of victim-shaming, especially around issues of rape and sexual assault.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called the Peshawar court verdict a “serious violation of the law” and a “judicial error”.
“HRCP urges the state to appeal the ruling and remain committed to women’s rights,” it said in a statement.
Misogyny and patriarchy in Pakistan
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 often goes unreported out of fear.
In Pakistan the problem is compounded by corruption in the courts and within the police, experts say.
According to the Legal Aid Society, a non-governmental organization that provides legal aid to disadvantaged people, around 60% of rape victims withdraw their claims, mainly due to a lack of empowerment to confront the country’s seriously flawed justice system.
In December 2020, Pakistan tightened its rape laws to create special courts to try cases within four months and provide women with medical examinations within six hours of filing a complaint.
But activists 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 released by a Pakistani appeals court, three years after being found guilty of killing her for “disgracing” the family.
Pakistan’s so-called “honour killings” often involve the killing of a woman by a relative who believes 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.