Friday, September 08, 2006

Pakistanis ponder changes to law on rape

Robert Birsel:

Pakistani religious experts are to debate proposed amendments of Islamic laws after conservative politicians objected to throwing out a law that makes rape victims liable to prosecution for adultery.

A bill to amend the laws, including the one that requires rape victims to produce four male witnesses or risk an adultery charge, has been fiercely opposed by religious conservatives.

Women's rights activists had welcomed the proposed amendments although some say the changes do not go far enough and the Islamic laws should be repealed altogether.

Controversy over the laws, known as the Hudood Ordinances, mirrors divisions in Pakistani society where a small class of urban liberals is often at odds with more conservative, religious groups.

President Pervez Musharraf, who promotes an ideology of "enlightened moderation", had earlier assured rights activists he would back any moves to amend or repeal the laws.

Parliament was due to vote on the bill on Thursday but the ruling party, which backs the changes, agreed to further deliberations with an opposition alliance of religious parties opposed to them.

A leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of religious parties, which has threatened to withdraw from the national and provincial parliaments if the amendments are passed, said the alliance objected to any changes that contradicted the Koran.

"There is a room for reform and improvement in any law but we are against framing of any law which is against the Koran and teachings of Holy Prophet Mohammad," an alliance leader, Liaquat Baluch, told Reuters.

The laws, which laid down punishments for such crimes as rape, theft and adultery, were introduced in 1979 by military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and have drawn widespread criticism both at home and broad.

Women's activists said the most important of the proposed amendments would take rape out of the sphere of Islamic law and put it in the Pakistani penal code.

That would mean an accusation of rape would no longer rest on the requirement of four male witnesses, but would be subject to the normal requirements of evidence in a criminal case.

Supporters of the change say the crime of rape is not mentioned in the Koran so it should be dealt with by the penal code.

But Baluch said the alliance was opposed to taking rape out of the realm of the Islamic laws.

A member of the ruling party, who helped draft and supports the amendments, said the deliberations by a committee of religious scholars over the weekend were aimed at reaching a consensus on the amendments.

But Mehnaz Rafi said no more changes would be made to the amendments and parliament would vote on them on Monday.

Musharraf leaves next week on visits to Europe and the United States and Europe where he is bound to face questions about human rights, in particular the plight of women, in his overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Pakistan's charade debate

Pakistan: Proposed Reforms to Hudood Laws Fall Short


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