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Pakistan tightens law on 'honour' killings and removes forgiveness loophole


Pakistani opposition MP Nafeesa Shah speaks to the media after the Bill became law (AP)

Pakistani opposition MP Nafeesa Shah speaks to the media after the Bill became law (AP)

Pakistani opposition MP Nafeesa Shah speaks to the media after the Bill became law (AP)

Pakistan's parliament has passed a law that stiffens the penalty for convicted "honour" killers and closes a loophole that often allowed them to go free.

The Bill was passed after a raucous debate that lasted nearly four hours, with some of the loudest opposition coming from hard-line Islamist politicians.

They wanted the Islamic Ideology Council, a body of conservative Muslim clerics, to weigh in on it before becoming law. Supporters of the Bill flatly refused, saying the council, which once ruled it was permissible for a man to "lightly" beat his wife, routinely vetoes legislation aimed at protecting women.

"Honour killings are a cancer in our society. This law is being presented against this cancer," Naveed Qamar, a member of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, said.

More than 1,000 women were killed last year in so-called honour killings in Pakistan, often by fathers, brothers or husbands. Such killings are bound up with traditions by which a woman's chastity is vital to the family's honour - so acts like a woman marrying the man of her choice, meeting a man, or even just being seen sitting with a man could lead to killings.

But those who carry out such killings are almost never punished. In accordance with Islamic Shariah law, Pakistan allows the families of victims to forgive the killer. Since the killers in these cases are usually close relatives, the family almost always forgive them.

The new law gives a mandatory 25 years in prison to anyone convicted of killing in the name of honour and no longer allows family members to forgive such killers. The law allows forgiveness only of an "honour" killer is sentenced to death; if the killer is forgiven, he would still have to serve the 25 years in jail.

The law change has angered some conservative Islamists who said it violates Shariah and imitates "Western laws" that give women too much independence.

But supporters said they wanted the law to go further. MP Nafeesa Shah said she had wanted any form of forgiveness banned in honour killings.

"There are still some loopholes, but it meets the problem half-way," she said.

Zohra Yusuf, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which documents such killings, said: " It is one positive development."

The legislation was originally introduced nearly a year ago by the opposition People's Party. But because the practice of forgiveness is part of Shariah, parliament deferred it to a committee to try to build a consensus.

The conservative Pakistan Muslim League took up the Bill but added the possibility of forgiveness for the death penalty as a concession to religious parties.

"We have to work within certain confines... but we have taken this step and we have come so far," government MP Shaista Pervaiz Malik said.