image captionThe court held its session in a Lahore district jail amid high security

A court in Pakistan has sentenced two men to death for a rape which triggered public outrage.

Abid Mehli and Shafqat Ali came across a Pakistani-French woman and her two children stranded on a motorway near Lahore after running out of petrol.

The men broke into their car, robbed them and raped the woman in front of her children.

Later comments by a policeman, who questioned why the woman had been out late on her own, led to mass protests.

On Saturday, a special court in the eastern city of Lahore convicted Abid Mehli and Shafqat Ali of gang rape, kidnapping, robbery and terrorism offences.

Their lawyer said they would appeal against the decision, according to the AFP news agency.

On 9 September 2020, the woman – whose name has not been publicly released – ran out of fuel on a motorway leading out of Lahore. Her two children were with her.

She called her relatives in Gujranwala who advised her to call the motorway emergency numbers and also set off to help her.

image captionThousands of people across Pakistan took part in protests last year, demanding justice and better protection of women

According to the complaint registered with the police by one of the woman’s relatives, the car was broken into by two men in their early to mid-30s who stole money and jewellery she had on her. They raped her in front of her two children in a nearby field, and then escaped.

Police say the woman was traumatised, although she did provide them with some basic descriptions of her attackers.

The next day the most senior police official in Lahore, Umer Sheikh, appeared in front of the media and implied that she had been partly to blame. He questioned why she had not taken a busier road, given that she had been alone with her children, or checked her fuel before departing.

In several TV appearances he reiterated these points, also adding that the woman, who is a resident of France, seemed to be operating under the impression Pakistan was as safe as France.

The reaction was like nothing seen in the country before and came from all quarters.

On social media people called him out for his victim-blaming.

Thousands of people across Pakistan also took part in protests, demanding justice and better protection of women in the country.

In December, new rape laws were passed, offering faster trials and tougher sentences.

media captionA Pakistani rape victim says she has been forced to seek justice after the rapists filmed and released the video of the act online