Pakistan's parliament is to debate a controversial bill seeking fundamental changes in the existing Hudood laws that have been widely perceived as being biased against women.
This follows a marathon meeting President Pervez Musharraf held to convince the bill's critics of its merits. He personally chaired parliamentary committee meetings to sort out details.
Among other things, the punishment of whipping is being done away with. The amendments aim at making offences by women bailable as well as making crimes like adultery and rape less difficult to prove by the victims.
However, following objections raised by ministers led by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afghan Niazi and Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, the women victims would still need to produce four male witnesses. The earlier draft had not specified the gender, The Nation said.
Musharraf had in early July issued an executive order annulling the laws, paving the way for freedom of an estimated 1,300 women held indefinitely in prisons across the country for petty crimes, since the Hudood laws do not provide for bail.
He had proposed a total repeal, but the government has settled for amendments that would give the law "a human face".
The term "Hudood" is plural of "hud" meaning to punish in Arabic. "Zina" refers to sex-related offences.
There is still no consensus within the government and among the opposition parties. The Shaukat Aziz government had at one stage decided not to table the bill in the National Assembly after many ministers rose in revolt, fearing a backlash from opposition benches, The News said.
The controversial law was framed under President Zia-ul Haq in 1979 as part of his drive to usher in "Nizam-e-Mustafa", the rule of god. The newspaper noted the irony in that the government was moving a day after Haq's 18th death anniversary.
The National Assembly is expected to witness protests when Niazi tables the bill.
Pakistan People's Party parliamentarians, analysts say, may raise objections over the bill, as it has been demanding complete withdrawal of these laws.
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), on the other hand, is likely to agitate over proposed procedural changes in these laws, terming them "un-Islamic".
The revised bill, in justifying changes in the Hudood laws, says, "We have to be mindful of a fact that even Allah loves those who hide their sins and only those can be punished who commit zina so blatantly that four people see him or her, (or that) he or she needed to be punished as it's a crime against the society".
But, the bill says the Holy Quran equally protects the "privacy, prohibits baseless assumptions and inquisition and forbids interference in the life of others".
The zina, the sex-related offence, is also being made bailable till the trial ends so that innocent people don't suffer in jail for years on end - as had been the case until now.