[JURIST] A group of approximately 300 Afghan women protesting a law that critics say severely curtails womens' rights were confronted by a crowd of approximately 1,000 counter-protesters Wednesday, some of whom threw stones and gravel at the women. The protest took place outside a mosque run by Shi'ite cleric Mohammad Asif Mohseni who spoke out [JURIST report] in support of the Shi'ite Personal Status Law [JURIST news archive] over the weekend. Police stood between the two groups [AP report] to prevent further violence against the women. Protesters say that the new law, which reportedly allows husbands to demand sex from their wives at any time except in a few narrowly defined circumstances and prevents women from leaving their home unaccompanied without their husband's permission, is reminiscent of laws under the Taliban [JURIST news archive] and violates Afghanistan's constitution [text, PDF]. The larger group of counter-protesters shouted down the protesters, claiming that the protesters and international critics of the law are attempting to interfere with Afghan democracy. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] supported the protest [press release] and urged Afghanistan's government to heed the protesters' call to the reverse the law.
The Taliban claimed responsibility [JURIST report] Sunday for killing Afghan politician and women's rights advocate Sitara Achakzai outside her home. Earlier this month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] announced the law would not be enforced [JURIST report] until the Ministry of Justice [official website] had reviewed the bill as Karzai ordered [JURIST report] two days before. Karzai faced international criticism after signing the still unpublished bill [JURIST report] last month. The law affects only Shi'ite Muslims [BBC backgrounder] who make up 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan's population and was seen by many as a conciliatory move by Karzai to appease the Taliban and increase his approval among Shi'ites before he faces re-election in August [JURIST report].