Pakistan compromises on rape law

Pakistan's government has agreed to a compromise over proposed changes to a law that has long made punishing rapists almost impossible.

    Musharraf averted a major political crisis (file photo)

    The Hudood Ordinance law requires a woman who claims she's been raped to produce four witnesses.

    Religious political parties have criticised an amendment to the law - which would have dropped the four-witness requirement - as un-Islamic.

    But late on Monday night, S.M. Zafar, a prominent ruling-party lawmaker, said the government had agreed to a "compromise" by letting rape victims choose between prosecuting suspects under the Islamic four-witness rule, or under Pakistan's civil penal code.

    He said: "It's a compromise which doesn't make [a] difference in the substance [of the law], but provides two different procedures for prosecuting a rape case."

    Witnesses

    Rape would remain punishable by death.

    Politicians will receive a new draft of the proposed amendment bill on Tuesday.

    Wasi Zafar, Pakistan's law minister, said: "If a woman has four witnesses she can file a case under the Hudood law, or if she does not have witnesses she can file a case under the penal code."

    But Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, an opposition lawmaker, called it a victory for Pakistan's coalition of six religious parties.

    He said: "Now they have acknowledged that the amendment was in conflict with the Quran."

    The bill had originally been scheduled for legislative debate on Monday.

    It was postponed until Wednesday after a panel of Islamic clerics, asked by the government for their opinion, suggested the adjustments.

    The ruling Muslim League party has a parliamentary majority and could easily pass the bill.

    Political crisis

    Human rights groups have long been demanding that the Hudood Ordinance be entirely repealed.

    The ordinance was approved by Zia ul-Haq, a former military dictator, in 1979.

    Last month, the government presented a bill to amend the law, proposing that rape cases be tried only in civil courts, with no four-witness requirement.

    But more than 60 lawmakers from the coalition of religious parties threatened to vacate their legislative seats, which could have forced a by-election and a major political crisis for Pervez Musharraf, the president.

    SOURCE: AFP


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