| Human rights activists outside the National Assembly in Islamabad on Wednesday. (AP)
Islamabad, Nov. 15: Pakistan’s National Assembly today approved the Protection of Women Rights Bill with an overwhelming majority.
The Assembly decision effectively annulled the controversial Hudood Ordinance of 1979.
The bill takes rape out of the sphere of the religious law and places it under the penal code, doing away with the requirement for four male witnesses and allowing convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.
Some of the Hudood Ordinance clauses, which were implemented by former military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in 1979, dealt with rape and adultery. In almost all rape cases, the [female] victim was required to produce four witnesses to prove the charge, or face prosecution for adultery.
The six-party Islamic alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), had strongly opposed any changes in the ordinance, saying that it was in line with Quranic teachings.
However, MMA members today merely boycotted the House proceedings as Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain put the legislation to vote.
The MMA had earlier announced that its members would resign from federal and provincial legislatures if the bill was pushed through the Assembly without the amendments they had suggested.
“We will take a final decision after consulting constitutional experts on the issue,” Opposition leader and MMA secretary-general Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman said while defending his alliance’s volte- face. Rehman’s statement came after senior Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leaders said the MMA amendments had been accommodated in the bill.
Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party supported the government while Nawaz Sharif’s PML faction abstained from the vote.
“The PPP fought for the repeal of the Hudood ordninance, which it never accepted as a law,” party’s secretary information Sherry Rehman told reporters in Islamabad.
She added her party fought for repeal of the ordinance for 27 years.
The upbeat Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz termed approval of the bill as a historic development, saying it woud go a long way in safeguarding rights of women
and help end excesses against them.