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Amending Pakistan's Hudood Laws

The Pakistani government has introduced in its national assembly an amendment to the country’s Hudood ordinances. One of the provisions of the “Women’s Protection Bill” would end the requirement that female rape victims provide four male witnesses in order to bring a rapist to trial.

Under the current Hudood laws, first adopted in 1979 under the regime of General Zia ul-Haq, if the victim fails to prove rape, she is subject to a charge of adultery, punishable by flogging or imprisonment.

In its latest human rights report, the U.S. State Department says that Pakistani husbands and male family members often bring “spurious adultery and fornication charges against women under the Hudood Ordinances.” Even when the courts dismiss the charges, the report says, the accused spend “months and sometimes years in jail” and see their reputations destroyed.

The proposed changes to the Hudood laws are being opposed by a six-party alliance of Pakistani religious parties. The question of Hudood law reform has touched off a passionate debate within Pakistani society. And there has been violence against one proponent of change. Manzoor-ul Hassan, editor of Ishraq, the publication of a Pakistani research organization that advocates women’s rights, was shot and critically wounded outside of his office by two men on a motorcycle.

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has called on Muslim clerics and the Pakistani public to stand up against violent extremists and embrace tolerance and what he calls “enlightened moderation.” He told a convention of Pakistani nurses that he wants an end to discrimination against women and Hudood laws that are “compatible with the spirit of Islam.”

President George W. Bush says Pakistan can best combat extremism by taking the road to democracy:

“President Musharraf envisions a modern state that provides an alternative to radicalism.”

The United States, says Mr. Bush, “will continue working with Pakistan to lay the foundations of democracy.”

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.