Afghanistan’s top Shiite cleric on Saturday defended legislation said to oppress women and accused Western critics of “cultural invasion” and violating the very democracy they are promoting.
Mohammad Asif Mohseni also rejected a ministry of justice review ordered by President Hamid Karzai, saying any changes would violate a constitutional provision for Shiites to have their own legal system.
Karzai last week ordered a review of Shiite Personal Status Law, which he signed in March, after a storm of criticism that it imposes Taliban-style harsh restrictions on women.
“This political pressure is a cultural invasion, thinking one’s culture better than others,” Mohseni told a gathering of more than 200 followers and journalists at the Khatemi Nabien University, which he heads.
Mohseni accused critics -- which include the United States, United Nations and Canada -- of not respecting the democracy they were helping Afghanistan to install after the 2001 removal of the extremist Taliban regime.
The law was reached on the basis of “the same democracy that the West is emphasising” in Afghanistan, he said.
The critics say the law violates international rights standards, including the equality of men and women, that Afghanistan signed up to after the ouster of the Taliban and which are enshrined in the constitution.
Some allege it, for example, allows marital rape by ruling that a wife cannot refuse to have sex with her husband except in exceptional circumstances.
Mohseni, who said there had been poor translations of the law, said a provision that a man should sleep with his wife every four days did not necessary mean they should have sex.
But he added that it was “compulsory” for her to meet her husband’s demand for sex unless she was ill, having her period, recovering from childbirth, fasting or in other similar circumstance.
The cleric also objected to changes already made to the document, including an article that had initially said a wife should always obtain her husband’s permission to leave the house, except in difficult circumstances.
Mohseni said he would however not take any action against such changes but insisted there should be no further amendments.
“The ministry of justice has no right of changing this material,” he said, stressing Afghanistan’s Shiites had the right to their own legal system under the constitution.
The final version of the document has not been officially published and it is not yet in force.
The law has also caused concern in Afghanistan, with five cabinet ministers heading a petition by nearly 200 Afghan officials and intellectuals last week that warns against any “Talibanisation” of the legal system.
Karzai has said that any item that contradicts rights enshrined in the post-Taliban constitution would be corrected.