Pakistan Parliament to debate Islamic rape law

Parliamentary discussion on the Protection of Women Bill ? aimed at amending the Hudood Ordinance ? broke down in September.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2006 12:20 IST

Pakistan's parliament was set to resume debate on Wednesday on a bill to revise controversial Islamic rape laws, which human rights groups want repealed.

Parliamentary discussion on the Protection of Women Bill—aimed at amending existing legislation called the Hudood Ordinance—broke down in September, after the government failed to get support from opposition Islamic groups who are resisting any such changes.

Under Islamic law, a woman who says she was raped must produce four witnesses to prove her claim in court, making punishment almost impossible because such attacks rarely happen in public.

The government has proposed that rape cases be tried under secular laws, dropping the requirement for four witnesses. But intense opposition from religious lawmakers has forced authorities to offer concessions.

Under a compromise deal, a judge would have the choice to conduct a rape trial under Islamic law if four witnesses are available, or under secular law if they're not.

Rape is punishable by death under both Islamic and secular laws in Pakistan.

Former military dictator Gen Zia ul-Haq introduced the Hudood Ordinance in 1979 in an attempt to make Pakistan's secular laws more Islamic.

Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said that the government would reintroduce the proposed amendments for debate this week.

It was unclear when the bill would come up for a vote. "There is no hurry," Durrani said. "It depends on the parliament."

A parliamentary official said the government has incorporated a clause in the draft bill, which would make consensual sex outside marriage a crime punishable with five years in jail or a fine.

"The opposition demanded that the government should not give freedom (for sexual relations)," the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because was unauthorised to make comments to media.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch rapped the government for failing to amend the Hudood Ordinance.

"But the government has repeatedly reneged on such assurances in the past," it said in a statement.

First Published: Nov 15, 2006 12:20 IST