Outcast women in Lords victory

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The Independent Online
THE HOUSE of Lords ruled yesterday that Pakistani women have the right to refugee status in Britain because they collectively suffer persecution from Pakistani men. The ground-breaking ruling by the law lords means that women who become outcasts in Pakistani society after being accused of adultery can seek asylum in Britain.

Two Pakistani women living in London brought the case after being driven into exile by false accusations. Syeda Shah, 43, came to Britain in 1992 with her child after her husband named her as an adulteress. Shahanna Islam, 45, a former Pakistani schoolteacher, fled after a militant political group began spreading rumours that she was unfaithful to her husband.

They argued that Pakistan's Islamic law classifies adultery as a criminal offence, known as Zina, punishable by imprisonment, public flogging or stoning.

The two women, who were supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, argued that they were legitimate refugees under the definition contained in the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951.

They argued that they had a well-founded fear of persecution as a member of a particular social group, namely women, who experience discrimination and oppression because they occupy a lower status to men in Pakistani society.

The law lords accepted their argument by a majority of four to one.

Hannana Siddiqui, of the women's group Southall Black Sisters, described the verdict as "enlightened". She said: "We have many other women who have suffered similarly and we hope that they will now be given the protection of British asylum law."