updated 8/1/2006 8:00:05 PM ET 2006-08-02T00:00:05

The government will propose amending Pakistan's rape laws to remove the nearly impossible burden of proof on victims and to protect them from retaliatory charges of adultery, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday.

The draft legislation likely will be submitted soon to the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, said Mahnaz Rafi, chairwoman for Parliament's special committee for women's development. Parties supporting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf have enough votes to pass the bill.

"This will be a historic change and it will end decades of miseries for women," said Rafi, a lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party.

Under Islamic law adopted by Pakistan in 1979, a woman must produce four Muslim witnesses to prove she was raped.

The proposal would end that requirement and increase the burden of proof on a person accusing a woman of adultery. Currently, a woman who claims she was raped but fails to prove her case can be convicted of adultery or having sex outside marriage.

"The person who accuses a woman of committing adultery will have to come up with four witnesses" under the proposed amendments, Rafi said.

Pakistan has two parallel and sometimes overlapping legal systems — one based on British common law and another based on Islamic law.

Under Islamic, or Shariah, law, women can be sentenced to death by stoning if found guilty of having sex outside of marriage, although the usual sentence is life in prison.

Victim’s outcry
An outcry from rape victim Mukhtar Mai has helped bring international attention to the treatment of women in Pakistan. Mai, who traveled to the United States last year, was gang-raped at the orders of a tribal council as punishment for her 13-year-old brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste.

Musharraf, a moderate and top U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, signed an amendment last month allowing women awaiting charges to be released on bail — his first change to the Islamic laws.

A lawmaker from a coalition of conservative Islamic groups said Tuesday it opposes repealing Islamic laws in their entirety, as many moderates demand, but said it may support legislation to improve how investigations are handled.

"Neither Parliament nor anyone else has the authority to remove or change laws of God," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a prominent figure in the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Forum opposition coalition.

Ahmed, a member of the National Assembly, had not seen the draft amendments..

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