Pakistan: UPDATE: Women abducted by Islamists freed after forced confession

Gulf Times
Pro-Taliban clerics and their followers at a mosque in the Pakistani capital on Thursday released three woman they had held for days after accusing them of running a brothel.
One of the women said the Islamist students had tutored them into confessing to prostitution.
Authorities in Islamabad have for months been at odds with clerics and their followers at the mosque, well known for its anti-government and anti-US stand, over government attempts to demolish mosques illegally built on public land. Trouble flared this week when, with behaviour reminiscent of Afghanistan under the Taliban, women in black burqas from the mosque's seminary raided a house they said was a brothel as part of a private anti-vice drive.

The women students abducted the owner of the house, two other women and a baby after the Islamists said they had refused to shut down their brothel. They later abducted two policemen after police detained two of madrassa teachers. The tension in a leafy neighbourhood of the capital is another challenge to the authority of President Pervez Musharraf's government and follows warnings of the spread of hardline Islamist influence, known as Talibanisation, especially in the northwest near the Afghan border.

The two detained policemen and the madrassa teachers were released late on Wednesday. On Thursday, the madrassa students released the three women and the baby after the mosque's cleric said the women had confessed and repented. But the owner of the house that the students said was a brothel told reporters after her release they had been forced to confess.

"We were taken there with hands tied after we were dragged from our house. They then tortured us mentally and physically," said the women, who identified herself only as Shamim. "They beat us with batons and said the government can't do anything, and we had read out a written confession," said Shamim. "We have never been involved in the prostitution business."

Earlier, she had confessed at a news conference at the mosque that her house had been "misused". She was flanked by women students and some male mosque officials as she spoke. The woman repented her "moral crimes" in front of reporters but also complained that students had bound and hit her with sticks. "If Islam allows people to tie up a woman and pull her around like a dog then I will turn to Christianity," said the woman, who claimed to be a widow and had knowingly leased a room in her house to a prostitute when she could no longer support her children.

A woman madrassa student, Bint-e-Abdul Wahid, vowed to continue their drive against "social evil". "If the government doesn't do anything we'll do it ourselves. We can't tolerate this," she said.

In January, women from the madrassa occupied a library next to their mosque to protest against efforts by city authorities to demolish illegally built mosques. City authorities had offered alternative sites for mosques earmarked for demolition but they later abandoned the campaign against encroachment. The students are still occupying the library, demanding several demolished mosques be rebuilt. Their mosque compound has taken on the air of a rebel camp, where young men with big sticks are posted at gates and at look-out points along banner-strewn walls. Two or three men have been seen with guns in the compound. The clerics say the guns are licensed.

Many Pakistanis have been dismayed by the behaviour of the students and clerics, and the government's failure to act against the first Taliban-style action seen in the capital.