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Afghanistan revises marital sex provisions in personal status law

[JURIST] The Afghan government has revised a controversial law which appeared to legalize marital rape, according to statements made by government officials on Thursday. The provisions of the Shi'ite personal status law [Reuters backgrounder] requiring a wife to submit to sex with her husband were removed [AP report] along with other provisions, following international condemnation and protests. Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile] pledged to amend the original law [JURIST report] to align it with international human rights standards, reportedly claiming to have not realized its effects [Reuters report] due to the law's length and theological language. The law only applies to the country's Shi'a population and no longer regulates spousal sexual relations or requires women to ask permission from their husbands to leave their homes.

The Afghan law elicited strong reactions from outside and within the country. In April, Karzai submitted the law to the Ministry of Justice [JURIST report] for review after suspending it and promising revisions. Key Shi’ite cleric Mohammad Asif Mohsseni defended the law [JURIST report], chastising Western critics for interfering with Afghan democracy. Following Mohsseni's endorsement and prior to Karzai's promise to revise the law, Afghan women protesters were attacked [JURIST report] by conservative Muslims while staging demonstrations and had to be rescued by police forces. US President Barack Obama [official profile] called the law "abhorrent," saying that respect for women and their freedom is an important principle [transcript text] that all nations should uphold. Karzai's decision to sign the law [JURIST report] was one of several actions that Karzai has been criticized for since his appointment as Afghanistan's interim president in 2002.

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