Top Pakistani religious body rules women's protection law 'un-Islamic'

A powerful Pakistani religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam has declared a new law that criminalises violence against women to be "un-Islamic".

The Women's Protection Act, passed by Punjabi legislators last week, gives unprecedented legal protection to women from domestic, psychological and sexual violence. It also calls for the creation of a toll-free hotline and the establishment of women's shelters.

Since its passage, many conservative clerics and religious leaders have denounced the law as being in conflict with the Koran, as well as Pakistan's constitution.

"The whole law is wrong," Muhammad Khan Sherani, the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology said at a news conference, citing verses from the Koran to point out that the law was "un-Islamic."

The new law establishes district-level panels to investigate reports of abuse, mandating the use of GPS bracelets to keep track of offenders. It also sets punishments of up to a year in jail for violators of court orders related to domestic violence, with that period rising to two years for repeat offenders.

Fazlur Rehman, the chief of one of Pakistan's largest religious parties, the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, said the law was in conflict with both Islam and the constitution of Pakistan.

"This law is an attempt to make Pakistan a Western colony again," he told journalists.

In 2013, more than 5,800 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab alone. Those cases represented 74 percent of the national total that year, the latest for which data is available.    (Reuters)