06/28/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamic Council approves Hudood ordinance amendment

by Qaiser Felix

The Council of Islamic Ideology admitted to abuses committed in the name of the notorious laws inspired by Islam, and proposed the release of all those detained in related cases.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) yesterday agreed to amend the controversial Hudood ordinances to bring it in accordance not only with the Quran but also the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code, a CII press release said.

According to the document, the Council – that recently started it 161st session chaired by Muhammad Khalid Masud – also decided to publish its report on the ordinances and passed a resolution proposing that women detained under Hudood charges should be released on bail.

This last decision is very important, given the results of a survey which revealed there are around 200,000 pending cases linked to the ordinances. In Lahore alone, the Federal Court must pass judgment on 1,400 cases: this has led to the unjust detention of those awaiting sentencing, most of them women.

The Islamic Hudood ordinances were approved in 1979 under the military junta of General Zia-ul-Haq: they are made up of four sections that regulate propriety, qazaf [false accusations of adultery], adultery and prohibitions.

For one thing, the ordinances make no distinction between adultery and rape. To get justice from the state, a woman who is a victim of rape must bring before an Islamic court the testimony of four males – adult and Muslim - who witnessed to and can testify the act was carried out using violence. According to the ordinances, if the victim is unable to produce these witnesses, she may find herself accused of adultery and condemned to imprisonment.

The CII decision follows a series of campaigns launched by civil and human rights groups to draw attention, through local and international media, to countless abuses of the law by local authorities. The president of the council will discuss the issue with Pakistani MPs and the most influential Islamic leaders to draw up the final bill of the amendment with them.

The Council clarified that "no amendment will clash with the Quran or the sayings of Muhammad, but a thorough revision of the ordinance is necessary to make it more responsive to the modern judicial system". It also admitted that "laws of Islamic inspiration have not managed to reduce the national crime rate".

Local minority groups, like those struggling for women's rights, have expressed satisfaction about the decision but said the amendment was too mild a move to reduce the injustices of the Hudood.

Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, discussed the matter recently with AsiaNews: He said: "The Hudood ordinance is a draconian law especially for women and religious minorities. It is very unfair that even non-Muslims are punished under this law and also that no non Muslim lawyer can appear in such cases. We are interested in amending the law: we want it to be completely abolished. Otherwise, we can only propose that it will not be used against minorities."

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