Pakistani Senate scraps Islamic law on rape

Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, passed a bill curtailing the scope of Islamic laws on rape on Thursday, paving the way for President Pervez Musharraf to sign it into law.

The National Assembly, or the lower house, passed the Women’s Protection Bill last week, in what was seen as a major test of Musharraf’s commitment to his vision of “enlightened moderation” for the predominantly Muslim country.

The change in the law has been fiercely opposed by conservative Islamic parties, which make up the main opposition bloc in parliament. They said it would promote “free sex” in the conservative country.

The main change proposed in the bill takes the crime of rape out of the sphere of the religious laws, known as the Hudood Ordinances, and puts it under the penal code.

Under the Hudood Ordinances, which were introduced by a military ruler in 1979, a rape victim had to produce four male witnesses to prove the crime, or face the possibility of prosecution for adultery.

The proposed change does away with that requirement and will allow convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.

Liberal groups and human rights activities have hailed the amendment, although they also called for the complete abolition of the Hudood Ordinances.