INTERNATIONAL

Pakistan House amends rape law

SEEKING CHANGE: NGO activists stage a protest outside the Parliament building during a National Assembly debate on rape laws in Islamabad on Wednesday.

SEEKING CHANGE: NGO activists stage a protest outside the Parliament building during a National Assembly debate on rape laws in Islamabad on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AFP

Nirupama Subramanian

It will create a free sex zone, says Opposition; changes fall short of demands

ISLAMABAD: The Musharraf regime on Wednesday finally made good its long-stated promise to amend the infamous Hudood Ordinances when the National Assembly adopted the Women's Protection Bill 2006 amid denouncements by the religious Opposition that it would turn Pakistan into a "free sex zone."

The amendments fall short of the demand by human rights groups and civil society organisations that the Hudood laws be repealed altogether.

Nonetheless, the new law will have far-reaching implications as it criminalises rape under Pakistan's civil penal code, taking it away from the purview of the Hudood laws that require complainants to produce four male witnesses or else stand accused of adultery. The MMA, a coalition of six religious parties, walked out of Parliament in protest, but not before its leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is also the leader of the Opposition, warned that it was "an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan."

He said the new law was not in line with Islamic teachings.

The MMA had opposed the Bill successfully in September, threatening to resign from Parliament en masse if the Government used its majority in the Lower House to adopt it. The Government hastily withdrew the Bill saying it would reintroduce it after building a national consensus on it.

But this time, the Government, under pressure internationally to demonstrate commitment to President Pervez Musharraf's oft-repeated slogan of "enlightened moderation," seemed determined to get the Bill passed, with or without the MMA's co-operation.

The MMA protested loudly but did not repeat its earlier threat of resignation.

With the passage of the Bill, the Government can claim a victory of sorts over Pakistan's religious orthodoxy. But it comes two days after the MMA Government in the North-West Frontier Province adopted the Hasba law that seeks to enforce a strict morality in the name of religion through specially appointed ombudsmen.

The Daily Times predicted that the MMA would counter the new federal laws with the Hasba bill in the NWFP.

PPP's support

PTI reports:

The Bill, which was backed by the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People Party (PPP), was passed after considerable drama during which the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) President Shujaat Hussain offered to resign if MMA proved that the provisions of the legislation were un-Islamic. The PPP voted for a government bill for the first time since 2002 polls.

Recommended for you