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Seminar on Aspects of Women Prisoners Release

Location: Karachi

The Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) is organising a seminar for journalists titled “Aspects of Women Prisoners Release” on Thursday July 20, 2006, from 3:30pm to 5pm, at the PPF Vicky Zeitlin Media Library, Press Centre, Shahrah Kamal Ataturk, Karachi.

Uzma Noorani, Council Member, Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Mr. Zia Awan, President, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, Ms. Shamim Kazmi, National President, Association of Business, Professional and Agricultural Women and Nuzhat Shireen from Aurat Foundation addressed the seminar.

Journalists representing print and electronic media participated in the seminar.

The moderator of the seminar, Samina Ishaque, welcomed the speakers and the participants and introduced the subject of seminar, which was being held to discuss various aspects of President Musharraf’s decision to promulgate the “Law Reforms Ordinance 2006” allowing hundreds of women charged with adultery and minor crimes to be bailed out of jails until, and if, they are proven guilty in a court of law. Under this new law women involved in acts of terrorism, murder and other major crimes would not be freed.

The speakers, comprising the leaders of civil society organizations Thursday welcomed the promulgation of Law Reforms Ordinance 2006 as a source of relief for the women prisoners to some extent, however viewed that it needs to be worked further to remove lacunas, ambiguities and confusions.

Zia Ahmed Awan advocate, President, Lawyers for Human rights & Legal Aid, said that amendment in clause 497 of Criminal Procedure Code facilitates the release of women prisoners being held under the petty crimes including Hudood Ordinance. “In fact a large number of women had to languish in the jails as they were implicated in fabricated cases under Hudood Ordinance.

This fact is supplemented by a report of National Commission on the Status of Women that says that 88 percent women currently in jails have either been convicted or were awaiting trial for Zina,” he said and questioned how the government or the society would compensate them for cruelty they had been subjected? He observed that none f the government institution including Baitul Mal and Zakat Foundation have any program for rehabilitation of the women being released from the prisoners. Another question he raised was about the early completion of trial after the release of women prisoners.
“The women prisoners are just granted bail instead of withdrawing the cases against them. Such cases often are kept in pending for a long time. This means the women prisoners would have no access to justice,” he viewed. “When the government can withdraw political and other ca
ses including that of treason, why these fabricated cases are not withdrawn against the women,” he said.

Zia Awan remarked it looks as if the rulers wanted to defuse the situation by promulgating the ordinance. He demanded that the government should repeal the Hudood Ordinance immediately instead of amending it as this black law had brought bad name for the country besides subjecting vulnerable section of society to the cruelty.
He said that that this action has taken place by a presidential ordinance and an ordinance’s life is short. Parliamentarians should play their role and should make it a part of the law. Similarly, this facility should be made available to juvenile prisoners and under-18 children should be released as well by making amendment to the law like it has been done in women’s case.

Ms. Uzma Noorani, Council Member, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, observed that the existing laws were discriminatory against the women and should be repealed forthwith. She said about 6500 women were lodged in jails across the country but a very small number of them have been released so far. According to her, the Law Reforms Ordinance was just a relief and could not be considered as a solution to the problems. “I don’t see any sincerity behind promulgation of this ordinance as none of the civil society organizations or even the concerned government departments were consulted before promulgation of this ordinance,” she contended.

Ms. Shamim Kazmi, National President, Association of Business, Professional and Agricultural Women, stressed on taking such measures that could prevent jailing the women and children. “There is no need to keep the women and children at the prisons. Instead there should be remand homes.

According to her, most of the women, being illiterate, were found implicated in false cases mostly the drug cases. “90 percent of the women lodged in jails are not criminals but were implicated in false cases or were made to commit any unlawful act. She also agreed to the points raised by earlier speakers that there would be a great hassle at the courts and suggested that the judges should be sensitized on the subject.

Ms. Nuzhat of Aurat Foundation termed the Law Reforms Ordinance as a Cosmetic Measure and stressed on sensitizing the judges as well as women jail staff. She also asked for providing shelter and legal aid to the women being released to get rid of false cases. The speakers pointed out that the judges had already the powers to minimize the surety amount in deserving cases therefore they should be sensitized to take care of poor women under the new ordinance in future.

The seminar ended after a question answer session.


List of Speakers
Ms. Uzma Noorani
Council Member
Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
Mr. Zia Awan
Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid
Ms. Shamim Kazmi
National President
Association of Business Professional and Agricultural Women
Ms. Nuzhat Shireen Aurat Foundation