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8 Pakistani Women Freed On Bail

Eight women were released from a jail in Pakistan on Monday, days after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf amended a harsh Islamic law giving them the right to be freed on bail, officials said.

Musharraf signed an amendment Friday to the controversial Hudood Ordinance, allowing women awaiting trial on charges of adultery and other minor crimes to get bail — a right previously denied.

The eight women, aged between 20 and 30, were released from Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, capital of the eastern Punjab province, said Sarfaraz Mufti, chief of prisons in Punjab. More releases were expected across the country in the coming days.

The women, who worked as maids, had been held for 10 days to three months, over allegations that they stole money and jewelry from homes where they worked. They face up to seven years in jail if convicted, Mufti said.

A former military ruler, Zia ul-Haq, introduced the Hudood Ordinance in 1979 in a move to Islamize the legal system.

Under the ordinance, women can be sentenced to death by stoning if found guilty of having sex outside of marriage. Drinking is punishable by 80 lashes and theft with the amputation of the right hand.

Human rights groups have been demanding for years that the law be repealed, saying it discriminates against women and is open to abuse.

The law makes prosecution in rape cases virtually impossible as a rape victim must produce four male Muslim witnesses in court to prove the charge.

On Friday Musharraf amended the legislation that covers women in jail awaiting trial — not those already convicted. The government has said 1,300 women will be eligible to leave jail on bail.

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