Islamabad: Mukhtar Mai, who became a cause celebre for her campaign for justice in Pakistan, faced disappointment again after the Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted 13 accused in her rape case.

The men, including members of a village council who had allegedly ordered the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai in 2002, were freed from the Central Jail in Multan on Tuesday in the wake of the Apex Court's verdict.

The Lahore High Court had initially ordered the release of the 13 accused in 2005.

Mukhtar Mai had challenged the High Court's order in an application filed in the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court upheld the High Court's decision last week and said the accused should be freed if they were not wanted in any other cases.

The Supreme Court upheld the life imprisonment awarded to Abdul Khaliq, described as the main accused in the case.

Following criticism of the Apex Court's verdict by rights activists and Mukhtar Mai's remarks that she feared for her life, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government will provide security and legal assistance to her.

In 2002, Mukhtar Mai was a seamstress in Meerwala (a small village in Punjab province), when her 12-year-old brother was falsely accused of having an affair with a woman from a powerful clan.

To avenge the woman's honour, the village council ordered her gang-rape.

Agencies