Women accused of adultery are freed as Pakistan amends laws

Click to follow

Seventy women awaiting trials on charges such as murder and adultery have been released on bail from jails in eastern Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf amended a law to give them the right to bail - a right previously denied to women in Pakistan.

Mr Musharraf amended the controversial Hudood Ordinance last Friday to allow women awaiting trial on charges of adultery and other crimes to qualify for bail. The women were freed in the past two days from jails in various cities in the eastern Punjab province, provincial prisons chief Sarfaraz Mufti said.

The women face trial on charges including murder, attempted murder, theft and adultery under the Hudood Ordinance, Mr Mufti said. He did not give details of how long the freed women had been in jail. Authorities were preparing to release other women awaiting trials from jails elsewhere in the country as well.

A former military ruler, Zia ul-Haq, introduced the Hudood Ordinance in 1979 in an attempt to make the legal system more Islamic. Under the ordinance, women can be sentenced to death by stoning if found guilty of having sex outside marriage. Drinking alcohol is punishable by 80 lashes, and theft by the amputation of the right hand. The law also makes prosecution in rape cases virtually impossible as rape victims must produce four male witnesses to prove the charge. Human rights groups have been demanding for years that the law be repealed, saying it discriminates against women and is open to abuse.

The amendment covers women in jail awaiting trial, not those convicted. The government says 1,300 women will be eligible for bail.