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6/3/04 - MUSHARRAF ON RELIGIOUS LAWS - 2004-06-04

Like people in many countries, Pakistanis are increasingly concerned about the role of religion in their society. Pakistan’s constitution provides for freedom of religion. But both religious liberty and women’s rights are threatened by extremists, says Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. Addressing a group of students in Islamabad, Mr. Musharraf said, “You must condemn and counter any religious personality who is. . .fueling hatred and sectarianism and promoting militancy in any form”:

“Pakistan cannot be led by religious fanatics because such elements have destroyed our Islamic values of tolerance.”

Mr. Musharraf recently called for a review of the Hudood Ordinances, adopted in 1979. The ordinances provide for harsh punishments for violations of Islamic law, including death by stoning for unlawful sexual relations and amputation for other crimes. Pakistanis can also be sentenced to death for blasphemy.

So far, no one has been executed or maimed under these laws. But in cases of blasphemy, some Pakistanis have spent long periods in prison under sentence of death. Moreover, a number of Pakistanis charged with blasphemy have been murdered by extremists after being acquitted, or killed before their cases even reached the court. “The blasphemy law needs to be looked into so that justice is done and it is not misused to victimize the innocent,” says Mr. Musharraf. He also says he wants to strengthen laws "to do away with the intolerable practice" of so-called honor killings. Each year, hundreds of Pakistani women, including rape victims, are murdered by male relatives for breaking sexual taboos. President Musharraf says a national discussion of Pakistan’s religious laws is long overdue:

“Is this teaching of Islam that we can't even discuss? Islam teaches discussion, it says we must discuss and come to decisions through a consensus. And here we are, we don't want to discuss something which we have created ourselves?”

“We should show to the world what Pakistan stands for,” said President Musharraf, “a progressive, tolerant, open-minded modern nation.”

President George W. Bush has said that, “Successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution.” Successful societies, says Mr. Bush, also “recognize the rights of women.”