03/17/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Sharia courts begin work in Swat Valley with restrictions on women

by Qaiser Felix
Women cannot go out unaccompanied or speak in public but must cover their heads. Girls’ schools could be closed for good. Local Catholics and Protestants fear for their future; some are starting to leave the region. Taliban militia leader threatens new judges; anyone not applying Sharia correctly will be removed from office immediately.
Peshawar (AsiaNews) – Sharia courts have begun to administer justice in the Swat Valley. With Sharia in place in Malakand area, women are no longer allowed to go out unaccompanied or speak in public. They must also cover their heads. Girls’ schools, essentially run by missionaries, could close for good, especially after recent bomb attacks. Although no one was injured in the blasts, about a thousands girls are now unable to go to class, about 95 per cent of whom are Muslim.

The future of the region’s Catholics and Protestants, who number around a thousand, is grim. Many of them are labourers and street sweepers, but some work in hospitals and a few teach in missionaries-run schools. All of them fear discrimination and many have begun packing up to move to areas where Sharia is not enforced. .

Since the start of the year the Taliban have carried out hundreds of attacks against schools, video and CD stores and barber shops and all other activities they claim to be un-Islamic.

With the implementation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 2009, civilian courts no longer have jurisdiction in this area and have been replaced by Qazi (Islamic) courts and Qazis (Islamic judges).

More specifically seven courts are now in place in the Swat Valley after Tehreek-i-Nafaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) Taliban militias and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari reached an agreement to that effect. The Lower and Upper Dir districts, Buner, Malakand Agency, Shangla, Kohistan and Chitral districts are now under Sharia law.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Communication Minister Iftikhar Hussain said that the aforementioned courts will be the models other districts will follow when they will implement Sharia. This way the latter can come into effect without presidential approval.

In announcing the start of the new courts TSNM chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad said that Islamic courts will come under a new supreme court, the Darul Qaza. Two of its three qazis have already been selected; the third one will be designated in the near future.

Sufi Muhammad also said that if qazis do not correctly implement Sharia they will be replaced.

This has led the High Court in Peshawar to express concerns with respect to the TSNM chief’s threats, calling on NWFP authorities to ensure the safety of the judges.

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