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Sarid and agencies, November 15, 2006

Pakistan's lower house of parliament passed amendments to the country's contentious rape laws today, dropping the death penalty and flogging for people convicted of having consensual sex outside marriage and giving judges discretion to try rape cases in a criminal rather than Islamic court.

The amendments were passed by a majority of the 342-member assembly, including Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The changes still have to be passed by the Senate.

The government-backed amendments enraged Islamic fundamentalists, who walked out of Tuesday's parliament session before the vote was taken.

President Musharraf praised the amendments, calling the move a historic day and stressing that this process of empowerment and protection of women will continue. "We have started the moment of women empowerment since 2000," Musharraf said, "and since then we have taken a lot of steps for the empowerment of women."

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters that the new law would protect the rights of women in Pakistan and that the law is in complete conformity with Islamic teachings. "This law will go a long way in alleviating the hardship of women, and we are determined to move on this process forward so that the laws in Pakistan are in fact giving rights to women which they deserve and are in line with our faith and our religious beliefs," Aziz told reporters.

The amendments won cautious support from human rights activists. "The government has made some positive changes by passing this bill, but it does not meet our demands," said Hina Jillani, Pakistani human rights activist, calling for further action. "It is something that is partial, it is halfway," said Sherry Rehman, an MP for the Pakistan People's Party. "We would have liked to see a total repeal of these anti-women and discriminatory laws."


Pakistan moves closer to amending strict rape laws, Times Online

Pakistan votes to roll back Islamic law on rape, Reuters

MMA changes find way into women’s rights bill, Pakistan Dawn, Pakistan



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