Pakistan introduces 25-year jail term for honour killings
Victim’s family can ‘forgive’ killer if death sentence given - but 25-year term still levied
Aitzaz Ahsan (centre), a Pakistani politician of the People’s party, who moved a Bill in parliament against honour killings which has been passed. Photograph: BK Bangash/AP Photo
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.
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 if an “honour” killer is sentenced to death - if the killer is forgiven they would still have to serve the 25 years in jail.
The change in law 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.”
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 through which a woman’s chastity is vital to the family’s honour. For a woman to marry a man of her choice, meet a man or even just be seen sitting with one could lead to such 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 forgives them.
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.