"We just want to place the (Hudood Ordinance) issue in the right context regardless of the debate outcome"

July 17 - 23, 2006

A string of horrific sexual abuse cases in Pakistan, including an alleged gang rape of a female doctor last year by an army captain and three security guards, had sparked calls for action to tackle widespread violence against women.

The doctor in her 30s was allegedly assaulted by up to four men a fortnight ago while she was working in the hospital at the Sui gasfield in southwestern Balochistan province.

Investigators found condoms and bloodstained bed sheets in the doctor's room.

But the alleged victim herself refused to lodge a complaint with the police something rights activists say highlights a major legal and social problem in largely conservative Pakistan.

But lately Geo, a powerful private television, has put forth the debate on adultery and rape for an open debate, stirring an air of change in once an untouchable Hudood Ordinance, the most controversial law of the country addressing sexual assaults.

Islamic scholars, clerics, Muftis, jurists and researcher can be seen on Geo's prime talk shows exchanging hard and hot views discussing whether the law is man-made or divine or could be amended or not.

The Islamic law of Hudood was held as supra-discussion and talking of repealing, modification, and amendment had been a taboo since its promulgation in 1979 as it was said to be drawn from the Qura'an and Sunnah (the way of Prophet Mohammad).

"We have launched this campaign in accordance with our commitment to enlighten people about all those issues, which have remained a taboo, though have strong bearings on common people," Azhar Abbas, chief of Geo television said.

The governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, each of whom was elected prime minister twice after the Zia regime, set up commissions to amend or do away with the law. But they could never dare to get new law through the parliament to avoid anger of country's religious parties and groups.

"We just want to make people know about the issue. We just want to place the issue in the right context regardless to the outcome of the debate," Abbas said.

What is Hudood Ordinance?

The law enforces punishments mentioned in the Qura'an and Sunnah, for crimes including adultery, rape, and theft. Enactment of the law was a part of the then military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, who was wooing for the Islamization of the Pakistani society.

Extra marital sex, vis a vis rape, was criminalized under the law. Even when the woman claims that she was raped and not involved in adultery, she must have four pious male witnesses to prove rape. But only Muslim men can testify in case involving Muslim women. For married couples, the punishment for adultery is death by stoning and unmarried couples are convicted to receive 100 lashes.

Practically never ever a sentence was executed through the 27-year life of the law, though it has discriminatorily misused against women, who remain highly susceptible to the Hudood Ordinance, in this male dominant society.

Of total 1,690 women in Pakistani jails, 246 or 15 percent are currently facing charges against Hudood Ordinance, according to Aurat (woman) Foundation, an advocacy group for women. Thousands of women, predominantly falsely implicated, have faced the ordeals by fleecing police, feudals, politicians and lusting males.


The volleys of talk shows amongst the Islamic scholars of all schools of thought (mainly majority Sunnis and minority Shiites) at the Geo television have set the pace for a change.

Almost all of them are evolving a consensus now. The law is flawed, that is.

"The biggest flaw in the ordinance is that it does not distinguish between fornication and rape," said Doctor Mohammad Farooq Khan, a religious scholar.

"It has shut the doors of justice for the rape victims, who are practically not able to produce four witnesses for testifying on their behalf as the law commands for," he said.

Jurists with an experience of hearing odd cases under Hudood laws also share the views.

"I come across a score of such cases in which parents lodged case against their own daughter accusing her of adultery while she chose to marry with a person of her own choice," retired chief justice of provincial Punjab High Court Javed Iqbal said.

"In view of modern standards of jurisprudence there are various practical and complex problems while dealing with the (Hudood) law," said Iqbal, the son of Allama Iqbal, who conceived Pakistan as a separate state for Muslims in the then Indian sub-continent in 1930s.

Dissenting Muftis are also not able to keep themselves aloof of the issue.

"They (Geo) want to render the Islamic law suspicious and want a society with no moral limits or discipline," lamented Mufti Usman Yar Khan, general secretary of a faction of Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam, a radical Islamic party.

"But we will not give them a walk over in their bid," Khan said after participating in one of the Geo programs.

The weeks long Geo campaign is over on 11 June having done strong spadework for the required changes. It has reinforced the government plans to bring about a change in the law so as to make it generally amenable.

"We have already started reviewing Hudood Ordinance and our legal committee has held several meetings," Doctor Mohammad Khalid Masood, Chairman Islamic Ideology Council said.

The council, comprised up to 20 scholars from Sunni and Shiite sects, is a constitutional consultative body to give advice to the government on the religious laws.

The council is set to submit the draft of the law to the government by September and could subsequently be taken to the parliament for its approval.

"We feel that the existing law has many flaws and they need to be rectified and hopefully we would come out with our recommendations by September," Masood said.

The council, which was constituted in Zia regime, would draw benefit of the Geo debates.

"It is a much appreciated effort by the (television) channel and it is of great help to the council and we have requested them to provide us with all the recordings of the programme," the council chairman said.