Sunday, May 19, 2002

Dateline: Pakistan

In Pakistan, get raped and then get stoned.

The NYTimes (reg. req.) looks at the wronged, being wronged again....

The evidence of guilt was there for all to see: a newborn baby in the arms of its mother, a village woman named Zafran Bibi.

Her crime: she had been raped. Her sentence: death by stoning.

Now Ms. Zafran, who is about 26, is in solitary confinement in a death-row cell in Kohat, a nearby town. The only visitor she is allowed is her baby daughter, now a year old and being cared for by a prison nurse.

In photographs, Ms. Zafran is a tall woman with striking green eyes — a peasant woman of the hot and barren hills of Pakistan's northwest frontier country. Unschooled and illiterate, like most other women here, she may have little understanding of what has happened to her. But her story is not uncommon under Pakistan's strict Islamic laws.

Thumping a fat red statute book, the white-bearded judge who convicted her, Anwar Ali Khan, said he had simply followed the letter of the Koran-based law, known as hudood, that mandates punishments.

"The illegitimate child is not disowned by her and therefore is proof of zina," he said, referring to laws that forbid any sexual contact outside marriage. Furthermore, he said, in accusing her brother-in-law of raping her, Ms. Zafran had confessed to her crime.

"The lady stated before this court that, yes, she had committed sexual intercourse, but with the brother of her husband," Judge Khan said. "This left no option to the court but to impose the highest penalty."

Although legal fine points do exist, little distinction is made in court between forced and consensual sex.

....Rape itself is a crime under hudood, but it is so difficult to prove that men are rarely convicted. On the other hand, human rights workers say, as many as half the women who report a rape are charged under zina laws with adultery.

"With the men, they apply the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty," said Asma Jahangir, an official of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the author of a book on hudood. "With the women, they apply the principle that you are guilty until proven innocent."

The man Ms. Zafran accused, Jamal Khan, was set free without charges. A case against him would have been a waste of the court's time. Under the laws of zina, four male witnesses, all Muslims and all citizens of upright character, must testify to having seen a rape take place. The testimony of women or non-Muslims is not admissible. The victim's accusation also carries little weight; the only significant testimony she can give is an admission of guilt.

There is much, much more. A peaceful people, indeed.