Change in rape laws in Pakistan brings protest.
Culture: Do you think its a protest because of Musharraf making it harder to prove rape? Wrong.
|Both sides in Pakistan's bitter controversy over its rape laws took to the streets over the weekend, either to accuse President Pervez Musharraf of betraying Islam or commend him as the saviour of women. The issue has inflamed the political scene since Gen Musharraf announced last week that he would amend the existing laws that place an almost impossible burden of proof on women bringing a case of rape. On the one hand, thousands of women, from the Karachi-based liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), chanted "death" to leaders of the powerful hardline Islamic Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance. On the other hand, the conservatives have announced a nationwide campaign against the Bill. But the story of Hidayat Bibi's arrest, and thousands of women like her, shows why Musharraf has risked taking this step. On Jan 18, last year, Hidayat, 45, was arrested under the Hudood ordinance after being accused of adultery by her former husband with whom she had a bitter financial dispute. The husband, claiming that the couple had not divorced, signed a police statement claiming that the man who leased her a house had "developed illicit relations with my wife, which is something immoral and un-Islamic". The police raided Hidayat's house after the case was registered. "Five policemen with two policewomen entered our house at about 4am and after searching all the rooms they got me arrested," she said. Although under Islamic law four male witnesses are needed to prove a case of adultery, Hidayat was imprisoned in a jail in Peshawar with her two-year-old daughter for three weeks. She was released after a medical examination proved that she had not had sexual intercourse in recent months. But the damage had already been done. "I am sick with my life. Had I not had kids, I would have committed suicide," she said. "All my relatives have severed ties with me. They treat me as inhuman. What wrong have I done? "The man who falsely accused me is still at large and I was punished for my uncommitted crime." The new Bill, dubbed the "Women Protection Bill", proposes to transfer rape and adultery cases from the Islamic legal system to Pakistan's British-influenced secular penal code. In the case of adultery the Bill asserts that greater evidence must be produced before a person is taken into custody, the penalties are to be reduced and the traditional Islamic principle that in an adultery case the onus of proof is on the accuser is to be enforced. Under Islamic laws imposed by Gen Zia Ul-Haq in 1979, women must produce four adult Muslim male witnesses to prove an act of rape. The new Bill proposes that rape cases be tried under criminal law and that police and judges abide by improved evidence gathering and case assessment practices. The Bill has been referred to a select parliamentary committee representing all parties where it is expected to be watered down by Islamic conservatives. The existing law means that rapists often escape punishment with impunity. The gang rape of a nurse who refused to perform illegal abortions earlier this year was one of the cases that intensified calls for the repeal of its rape laws. Rubina Kousar, 26, was attacked by three men after they burst into her lodgings at a rural health centre at Mattrai in the western region of Punjab.|