[JURIST] Mohammad Asif Mohseni, a key Shi'ite cleric in Afghanistan, defended a controversial law Saturday that critics say limits women's rights in the country. The measure, called the Shi'ite Personal Status Law [JURIST news archive], was signed into law [JURIST report] last month by President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], but the law has yet to be published. Opponents of the law say that the law requires a woman to seek her husband's permission before leaving the house, and effectively condones rape [NYT report] within a marriage. Mohseni was critical of Western reaction to the law, characterizing the response [AFP report] as interference and a violation of Afghan democracy, and rejected a review of the law ordered last week [JURIST report] by Karzai. Afghanistan's constitution [text, PDF] requires equal rights for both both men and women, but allows for the country's Shia [BBC backgrounder] population to observe some of its own religious laws.
Signing the law was one of several legal actions that Karzai has been criticized for since his appointment as Afghanistan's interim president in 2002. In early March, the UN reported that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is worsening [JURIST report], one week after a similar US report rebuked Afghanistan for, among other problems, continued use of child labor [JURIST report]. In November, the UN urged Afghanistan to discontinue use of the death penalty [JURIST report], which Karzai had reinstated following a four-year moratorium [JURIST report]. In April 2008, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Karzai [Guardian report] during a military parade, the third attempt on his life since 2001.