Pakistan caves in on rape law

Pakistan is to vote on whether to relax its tough rape laws, which require that a woman present four male witnesses to secure a conviction.

Rape is currently tried under religious laws, and if a woman fails to prove her case, she can herself be tried for adultary or fornication, which are punishable with death.

At one point, it looked like Pakistan’s government would put forward a bill to scrap these requirements completely, but the Christian Science Monitor reports that it has caved in to pressure from conservatives.

Rape will remain under the purview of Islamic law, but judges can also choose to use secular evidentiary procedures provided by Pakistan’s penal code if the circumstances of evidence and witnesses call for it.

Ruling party members say the amendment will constitute a step forward. “We are going to make it easier for [rapists] to be convicted,” says Tarique Azim Khan, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, the ruling party.

But many analysts and activists say the bill highlights the power of hard-line Islamists to strong-arm the government.

“It might be a step forward, but it’s a step backward in the broader context of Pakistan,” says Kamila Hyat, joint director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “Once again, it shows that the government caved into the pressure of extremists.”