The National Assembly passed the Protection of Women Bill with the crucial support of the Bhutto-led Pakistan Peoples Party.
LAHORE: In a major development, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed on Wednesday with a majority vote the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill with the crucial support of the Bhutto-led Pakistan Peoples Party, as the six-party religious alliance boycotted the Assembly proceedings saying the new law was meant to turn Pakistan into a “free sex zone”.
With the passage of the bill, key changes included dropping punishments of the death penalty and flogging for people convicted of having consensual sex outside marriage. An earlier attempt to amend the laws was rejected September because of angry opposition from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
The Bill, which would become a law once approved by the upper house of the parliament, actually amended the Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance, enforced in 1979 by the then military president General Zia. The Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance was brought in to appease the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami which had been a supporter of Ziaul Haq, being the only major political party that refused to be a part of the anti-Zia Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the 1980s.
The Zia era Ordinance, among others, criminalizes adultery and non-marital sex, including rape.
The Ordinance viewed all sex outside marriage a crime and heavily tilted against rape victims who herself could face punishment if she failed to produce four male witnesses to the crime. The four-witness requirement had made it virtually impossible to prosecute the rapists as it placed the onus of proof on women in the most discriminatory manner.
But if a woman who claims she was raped fails to prove her claims she could be convicted of adultery, which was punishable by death in the most stringent circumstances. The Zia Ordinance considered sexual intercourse as adultery whether it is with or without the consent of a woman, who is not married with the man.
As a result, thousands of the rape victims had been being imprisoned in last 25 years for adultery, while the alleged rapists go free.
According to the National Commission on the Status of Women, almost 80 per cent of the 6500 women prisoners in the Pakistani jails are victims of the Hudood Ordinance which does not allow the release of the accused women on bail. Interestingly, the government Bill was backed by the Bhutto-led Pakistan People Party, amid an uproar by the MMA and the Sharif-led PML-Nawaz, which is a component party of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) along with the PPP which voted for a government bill for the first time since 2002 polls.
While the MMA leaders accused the government of following western agenda to secularise Pakistan by amending the Zia era ordinance, the PPP maintained that the Bill was the first move to dismantle repressive religious structures brought in by General Zia.
Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman led the onslaught by condemning the Bill as a conspiracy to turn an Islamic country into a free-sex zone. He further threatened that the MMA parliamentarians could resign their seats if the Bill was passed by the upper house of the parliament without the amendments they seek.
A history of violence
LAHORE: The parliamentary secretary for defence in the Pakistani federal cabinet, Major Tanvir Hussain (Retd), made history of sorts by proudly confessing on the floor of the house his active links with the defunct jehadi organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
In an apparent rebuttal of the Pakistan government’s claim that Hafiz-Saeed led jehadi group Lashkar-e-Toiba has already shifted its headquarters to Indian administered Kashmir, the Major disclosed: “I want to inform the house that I have been a member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba”, he declared in the flow of his spirited speech, adding that it is a jehadi group and not a terrorist organisation.
Besides reaffirming his links with the LeT, which was proscribed as a terrorist organization by General Musharraf in January 2002, he felt no hesitation in revealing that he often addressed the congregations of the LeT to deliver speeches doing advocacy for jehad.