A distraught Pakistani teenager died Friday after setting herself on fire after a court dropped charges against four men accused of raping her, police said, effectively accusing her of lying over the attack.
The incident occurred in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province, where the horrific 2002 gang rape of Mukhtar Mai, an illiterate women, made headlines around the world.
Amina Bibi, who was aged 18 according to police, doused herself with petrol and set herself alight on Thursday in front of a police station in the village of Beet Meer Hazar.
Pakistani news channels aired horrifying footage showing the self-immolation and desperate attempts by onlookers to put the flames out.
She was taken to a nearby government-run hospital where the doctors tried to save her but succumbed to her injuries early on Friday, police said.
She was allegedly assaulted by four men, including a family member, in early January and reported the incident to police.
But a local court in Muzaffargarh dropped the case on Thursday following a police report which said she had not been raped, prompting Bibi to take the desperate measure.
“Nadir, the main accused in the case was a relative of the victim and they had a family dispute,” senior local police official Chaudhry Asghar Ali told AFP.
“The case was investigated twice and investigators discovered that the victim had not been raped.”
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday demanded an explanation for the incident, ordering the provincial police chief and district police chief to appear in the court in person.
The court ordered police to file a written report explaining how the case was investigated and why the accused men were cleared.
The Punjab police chief’s spokeswoman said an investigation team had been sent to the area to investigate.
“We have sent an enquiry team to the area and have suspended the police officials who were investigating the case”, Nabeela Ghazanfar, spokeswomen of the Punjab police chief told AFP.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the government take steps to ensure rapists are brought to justice.
“Her sacrifice has exposed the ordeals that rape victims in the country face when they try to bring their tormentors to justice,” the group said.
“It is common knowledge that only the courageous rape victims in Pakistan take the matter to the police or court.”
Physical and sexual violence against women are widespread in Pakistan, a deeply conservative, patriarchal Muslim country.
One of Pakistan’s most infamous sex crimes against women, Mukhtar Mai’s 2002 rape and survival transformed her into an international rights icon.
Yet another case that demonstrates the desperate plight of women in a variety of cultures around the world. The West urgently needs to use every lever in its arsenal to encourage authorities and opinion formers in these areas to elevate the status of women, institute contemporary protocols for dealing with accusations of rape, to combat anti-women violence generally, and start to institute the long march to equality of opportunity and treatment denied to great swathes of half of humankind.
We could also do a lot worse than leading by example, by continuing our patchwork efforts to make the whole world safe for women, including in our own countries, where such progress as we have made often continues to be painfully slow.