PARIS Feb 10 A Pakistani man went on trial in France on Tuesday for setting his ex-girlfriend alight after she refused to marry him, in a case that rights groups are using as as a symbol of violence against women in poor neighbourhoods.
Amer Mushtaq Butt, 28, doused Chahrazade Belayni in petrol and set fire to her on the street as she was leaving her home in the under-privileged Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Marne in 2005.
She suffered third-degree burns on 60 percent of her body, fell into a coma and underwent many operations. Belayni, now 21, works for the police.
"I want him to pay for what he did, not for my sake but to show other girls who have problems with their partners that it's possible to fight back and the justice system won't abandon them," she told reporters just before the trial opened.
Butt fled to Pakistan after the attack on Belayni but returned to France to hand himself in a year later. He has confessed to the attack and blamed it on an obsession with the young woman. He faces a maximum sentence of life in jail.
At the start of the trial, the court rejected a request from Belayni that the hearings take place behind closed doors, causing her to burst into tears.
Human rights groups such as the prominent "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" ("Neither whores nor submissive women") say violence against women is rife in certain poor communities with high Muslim populations on the outskirts of French cities.
The activists say some young Muslim men take out their frustrations about poverty and discrimination on women, demanding that they cover up according to Islamic tradition. If they refuse, they are considered "whores". (Reporting by Thierry Leveque; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Louise Ireland)