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Pakistani Woman's Assault Case Highlights Country's Slow Progress To Stem Violence


Our next story is about a Pakistani woman who did something that's extraordinary in her country. After surviving a near-deadly assault, she spoke up and succeeded in bringing her attacker to justice. The effort shows some progress in a country struggling to stem violence against women. But the efforts it took and the backlash she faced also show how far there is to go. NPR's Diaa Hadid met the survivor.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: We pull up to the house of Khadija Siddiqi. She's just arriving.


KHADIJA SIDDIQI: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

HADID: Please don't worry about that.

SIDDIQI: I actually had totally forgotten about this interview.

HADID: When you were getting out of the car, there was a man in khaki.

SIDDIQI: He's the guard.

HADID: Siddiqi is a wispy 22-year-old in a headscarf and long sleeves. But when she gestures, you can see the scars near her wrist. Last May, she was collecting her sister from school when...

SIDDIQI: This man - he just pushed me into the car and just started stabbing me. And I thought it was the end. Because, you know, there was no stopping. It was full of blood.

HADID: She's lucky to be alive. She needed dozens of stitches. She was stabbed in her arms, breasts, neck and back.

SIDDIQI: I knew my attacker. He was my class fellow.

HADID: She says they used to be friends in law school. But when they argued, and she stopped talking to him, he began threatening her on social media. And even though his identity wasn't in doubt, the trial was. For months, he was out on bail while the trial kept getting delayed.

SIDDIQI: There were times that we would actually consider giving up.

HADID: Then Siddiqi decided to do something rare in Pakistan. She went public with the help of her lawyer Hassan Niazi, who put out photographs of her wounds online. I met him in a cafe, where he described the tweets he sent out to rally support for Khadija Siddiqi.

HASSAN NIAZI: The hashtag is #KhadijaTheFighter. We started sharing the posts. And we got nearly 2 million views.

HADID: One of Pakistan's top TV anchors picked up the story and expressed his outrage in primetime. Why was Siddiqi's case being delayed? Barely a month later, the chief justice ordered the case to go to trial. But there, she was called, quote, "modern," shorthand for promiscuous. They mentioned selfies on Facebook with men. They asked how many boyfriends she had and whether she was a virgin.

SIDDIQI: They were trying to insinuate that I am a girl with having a loose character.

HADID: As the trial continued, so did the media outrage. The defendant's father, Tanwir Hussein, says it was a trial by media and maintains his son was innocent.

TANWIR HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: "Journalists are ignorant," he says. "They scribble down hearsay and skew justice."

But in the end, Siddiqi's attacker was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he is now. Siddiqi supporters say the media role was critical. And it should have been because although Pakistan has laws against assault, they are rarely used to punish men who hurt women. This is Farzana Bari, a prominent feminist.

FARZANA BARI: I think if you look at the rate of - kind of conviction rate, it is almost zero. So I was very pleasantly surprised that she brought some justice.

HADID: Violence against women and threats on social media are in the spotlight right now because of another case that happened as Siddiqi's case went to trial. A young parliamentarian accused her party leader of sending her indecent text messages. She asked for a parliamentary investigation but was met with a backlash on social media. Men threatened to shoot her and spray her face with acid.

In both cases, women boldly spoke out. But Siddiqi won. Feminists point to the extraordinary circumstances that helped. Parents supported her instead of bearing the matter. They had cash for lawyers. A Twitter campaign amplified Siddiqi's voice and this.

NIGHAT DAD: The injuries - they were something that people could physically see. And it helped them to support her.

HADID: That's Nighat Dad, who runs the Digital Rights Foundation. It helps women who are threatened online. But Siddiqi still had to fight to achieve the rarest of things in Pakistan.

DAD: In Khadija's case, it's unique because it was a woman who was asking for support. And she got support.

HADID: That alone, feminists say, feels like a milestone. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Lahore.

(SOUNDBITE OF STS9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.