updated 9/6/2006 1:19:31 PM ET 2006-09-06T17:19:31

Lawmakers from a coalition of six Islamic groups threatened Tuesday to vacate their parliamentary seats if Pakistan’s government changes a rape law criticized by human rights activists.

A walkout by the 68 lawmakers could destabilize the government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, criticized by Islamic parties since his ruling party last month presented a bill to amend the law in a bid to protect women’s rights.

Pakistan’s National Assembly has 344 members. A walkout could force by-elections.

Under the current law, approved by a former military dictator in 1979, prosecuting a rape case requires testimony from four witnesses, making punishment almost impossible because such attacks are rarely public.

A woman who claims she was raped but fails to prove her case can be convicted of adultery, punishable by death.

Government lawmakers have said proposed changes to the law would eliminate the requirement for four witnesses, and ensure that rape cases are tried in civil — not religious — courts.

The legislation also would make it much more difficult for a woman filing a rape case to be convicted of adultery if she fails to prove her case, introducing a new requirement for four witnesses to prove an adultery case.

Maulana Fazalur Rahman, a leader of the Islamic coalition, said Tuesday that lawmakers in his group would vacate their seats in the National Assembly if the government tries to get the assembly’s approval to change the law.

“We will render every sacrifice for the protection of the Shariah (traditional Islamic) laws,” he said at a news conference.

However, the ruling Pakistan Muslim Party — which has a majority in the assembly — has praised Musharraf for taking steps to amend the law and end the four-witness requirement.

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