07/24/2006, 00.00
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Islamabad plans changes to the Hudood Ordinances but will retain Islamic punishments

In spite of a national campaign by civil rights groups, the government has decided not to repeal the Hudood Ordinances and will in fact retain punishments taken from the Qur'an such as lashing and amputation. However, rape victims will no longer need eyewitnesses to make their case.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government has decided to retain all Islamic punishments provided for in the Hudood Ordinances; they include for example stoning to death (rajam), lashing and amputation. It has however proposed procedural changes regarding how they are enforced.

Pakistan's leading newspaper, the Daily Times has learnt that the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights "has almost finalised the draft of a bill for amendments to the Hudood Ordinance of 1979, with the objective of removing all 'legal and procedural lacunae' in it. Sources in the ministry said that the bill was likely to be presented in the next session of the National Assembly."

The Islamic Hudood ordinances were approved in 1979 under General Zia-ul-Haq's military junta. They include four sections that regulate propriety, qazaf [false accusations of adultery], adultery and prohibitions that are binding to non-Muslims as well where alcohol and gambling are concerned. Everything falls under the general rule that, in court, non-Muslims must be tried by a Muslim judge and have a Muslim lawyer.

Ordinances make no distinction between adultery and rape. A woman rape victim who wants justice from the state must bring to an Islamic court four adult Muslim males to testify that the act was carried out using violence. Should the victim fail to produce these witnesses, she may find herself accused of adultery and imprisoned.

The decision to amend the Ordinances has provoked a fiery nationwide debate. At one end of the spectrum are Islamic extremists who claim it is a sacrilege to even think of removing laws inspired by the Qur'an.

At the other end, human and civil rights groups are calling for the total repeal—not just the amendment—of the laws, held to be draconian and increasingly abused to settle personal scores.

Even if the amendments are adopted, existing punishments (Hudood) will still be applicable in all cases, including rape, adultery and theft. Changes are only procedural as they relate to eyewitnesses, evidentiary rules and sentencing.

And women charged under the Hudood Ordinances may now be granted bail pending the trial. Hitherto they had to remain in prison, a situation that human rights groups had denounced because it left them vulnerable to abuses and to preventive prison terms that could last up to four years before they were ever tried.

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