Pakistan Senate approves amendments rape law

Pakistan's Senate approved a controversial bill to help rape victims, despite vehement protests by hard-line Muslim lawmakers who claim the legislation violates Islamic law. The bill is now set to go before President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is expected to sign it. The Pakistani leader has been a strong supporter of changing contentious sections of the 1979 Hudood Ordinance, or rape law, as a way of softening the country's hard-line Islamic image and appeasing moderates and human rights groups opposed to the statutes. Activists have long condemned the laws for punishing - instead of protecting - rape victims while providing legal safeguards for their attackers. But conservatives and opposition supporters have rallied to keep the old laws, which were introduced by the late President Gen. Zia ul-Haq to make Pakistani laws more Islamic. The government-controlled Senate passed the amendments Thursday in an evening voice vote, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said. The legislation, dubbed the "Protection of Women Bill," came a week after it cleared the lower house of parliament. The new law would drop the death penalty for people found to have had sex outside of marriage, and lets judges choose whether to try a rape case in a criminal court or an Islamic court. Under the Hudood Ordinance, rape victims could only raise a case in the Islamic court, which requires testimony from four witnesses to the crime.