Setback

Via Feministing, Echidne, and Eteraz: Pakistan’s rape law reform failed after religious conservatives exerted serious pressure on the government to keep things as they are.

[Link] In a setback for women’s rights in Pakistan, the ruling party in Islamabad has caved in to religious conservatives by dropping its plans to reform rape laws.

Statutes known as the Hudood ordinances, based on sharia law, currently operate in Pakistan. They require a female rape victim to produce four male witnesses to corroborate her account, or she risks facing a new charge of adultery.

The ruling party in Islamabad, made up of a coalition of groups allied to President Pervez Musharraf, had hoped the new Protection of Women Bill would place the crime of rape within the country’s secular penal code, which works in tandem with sharia.

But the government said rape would remain a crime punished by Islamic law yesterday after conservatives in an opposition group, Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA), threatened to walk out of parliament in protest if the government pushed ahead with reforms.

“If there are four witnesses it will be tried under [Islamic law], if there are not, it will be tried under the penal code,” said the law minister, Mohammad Wasi Zafar.

The part about four male witnesses is priceless. Presumably, the theocrats in the MMA think that whenever a man rapes a woman, he makes sure to call in four friends who are sufficiently moral not to lie in his defense. Or, maybe, they reason that since once in a while a real-life snuff film makes it to the Internet and gains millions of watchers, averaging four male witnesses per rape, the law should require four witnesses in general.

At least Muslims are more enlightened than Jews here. Judaism states that if a man rapes a woman, they must marry. The official defense is that “Two thousand years ago, nobody would’ve married a non-virgin.” American patriots who think every comma in the Constitution is sacred have nothing on these reactionaries.

4 Responses to Setback

  1. SLC says:

    The difference is that virtually all Jews, who are not biblical literalists, have rejected the statement in the Hebrew bible. Rape is virtually legal in many Moslem countries.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Well, I’ve had the misfortune of arguing with a few ultra-Orthodox people who tried justifying that. But you’re right: they don’t set the laws in Israel, especially not the criminal code.

  3. SLC says:

    I would also point out that even Christian biblical literalists who include every word in the Hebrew bible as sacred also, for the most part reject this interpretation.

  4. Rape is not “virtually legal” in any Muslim country i know of. In fact in Egypt it is punishable by hanging. Where do people get these statements?

    If you talked to most Muslims in the US, I doubt we would have the same view as this Pakistani political party.

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