Nirupama Subramanian

Hundreds of women languishing in prisons

ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf has asked his Government to begin work on amendments to the controversial 1979 Hudood Ordinances under which hundreds of women are languishing in Pakistani prisons.

He has also issued an order that all women imprisoned on charges other than robbery, murder or terrorism, be set free immediately.

According to newspaper reports, Gen. Musharraf has asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology, which functions under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws.

General Zia ul-Haq introduced the laws when he was the President to bring Pakistan more in line with Islam. "The Hudood Ordinance was authored by one man and it can be changed. However, it should not be abused," Gen. Musharraf was quoted as saying.

Gen. Musharraf wants Pakistan to follow the path of enlightened moderation to help shed the image of the country as the land of extreme Islam, and improving the condition of Pakistani women is part of this project.

When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza rice visited Pakistan recently, she praised the concept of enlightened moderation and said it was an important step towards the democratisation of the country.

The set of five Hudood ordinances are widely held to be discriminatory and unjust to women. Some Islamic scholars have also said they do not reflect the true spirit of the religion.

Countless number of women have been thrown in jails on charges of adultery under the Hudood because they could not produce the mandatory four men to stand witnesses for the charge.

Women's rights activists want the Government to repeal the ordinance, not just change it.