Islamic groups protest Pakistani rape law reform

Friday, November 17, 2006 Islamist groups have vowed large scale protests after Pakistan's Parliament amended laws to transfer rape cases from Sharia courts to civil courts.

Sharia courts in Pakistan, based on Islamic religious law, try rape cases under "Hudood" laws instituted in 1979. The laws say that a rape victim must herself face adultery charges unless she can produce four Muslim male witnesses to the rape. The maximum sentence for adultery is death by stoning.

The laws are widely condemned by women's rights groups as an almost impossible burden of proof. Human rights groups have long campaigned for changes to the religious laws. On Wednesday, Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendments.

A coalition of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which forms the Parliamentary opposition, has opposed the changes, saying it encourages "free sex". The MMA says that its members will resign from national and provincial assemblies in protest.