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Right-wing Religious Groups Oppose Revoking Death Penalty

June 12, 1996

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ A right-wing religious leader today declared Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Cabinet non-Muslims after they agreed to abolish the death penalty for women.

Pir Afzal Qadir, leader of a conservative Sunni Muslim group, threatened to organize street protests, declared Ms. Bhutto a nonbeliever and said the entire Cabinet should be handed the death sentence unless it revokes its decision.

The Cabinet decision was made Monday, but the proposed amendment requires a majority vote in Pakistan’s 217-seat Parliament before becoming law.

Pakistan’s former Chief Justice Nasim Hasan Shah also raised his voice in opposition, saying when it comes to punishment, Islam does not discriminate between men and women, according to the Nawa-e-Waqt newspaper.

Women’s rights groups in Pakistan have been lobbying for the change, saying there are dozens of women in jail falsely charged under an Islamic law that allows a woman found guilty of adultery to be stoned to death.

The groups also claim these cases often come down to one person’s word against another’s, and in Pakistan the man’s word usually wins out.

The measure is expected to be approved by the Parliament, the final step in its enactment as law, but its not clear when the vote will take place.

More than one year ago her Cabinet agreed to reform Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. The proposed amendments were not introduced into Parliament following outcries from several religious groups.

Both international and local human rights groups have condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which call for an automatic death sentence against anyone found guilty of insulting Islam.

More than 100 people currently are charged under the blasphemy laws. The death sentence has been imposed in four cases, but all were later revoked by an appeals court.

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