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While country struggles for food, Pakistan focuses on strengthening ‘blasphemy’ laws that are used to target minorities

Zahid Akram Durrani, the deputy speaker, praised the parliamentarians for carrying out what was widely regarded as their religious obligation and dubbed the legislation "historic."

Religion and the outward manifestation of religiosity in public life have grown exponentially as Pakistani culture has become more archaic and conservative over the past few decades. Now, the country’s parliament has made tightening its draconian anti-blasphemy statute a priority, amid the ongoing economic crisis as Pakistan witnesses large-scale flour riots to massive power cuts.

The country, which is ironically a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, has an atrocious history of human rights violations and persecution of its minorities. The blasphemy laws have served as a useful tool for Pakistan when it comes to targeting minorities, and now those rules are getting even stricter.

Minorities have been regularly targeted in Pakistan. So much so, that a minority lawmaker even cried in the Pakistani parliament over the state of the country’s minorities.

Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws, which are frequently used to settle personal scores or persecute minorities, were further strengthened this past week by the Parliament. This has raised concerns among human rights activists about the possibility of an increase in such persecution, particularly of religious minorities, including Hindus and Christians.

The laws, which currently carry the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, can now also be used to punish those found guilty of insulting those associated with him.

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023, which was unanimously approved by the Pakistan National Assembly last week, increased the minimum sentence for individuals who disrespect the holy figures of Islam.

What modifications were made to the blasphemy law?

Anyone found guilty of disparaging the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, companions, or close relatives will now be subject to a fine of 1 million rupees ($4,500), 10 years in prison, and the term may be increased to life in prison. Additionally, it turns the accusation of blasphemy into a non-bailable crime.

According to the bill’s sponsor and lawmaker from a religious political party, Abdul Akbar Chitrali, “the punishment for offending these hallowed persons was nearly nothing prior to the new laws.”

Zahid Akram Durrani, the deputy speaker, praised the parliamentarians for carrying out what was widely regarded as their religious obligation and dubbed the legislation “historic.”

What concerns do advocates for human rights have?

Human rights activists said they were very disturbed by the most recent development. While the stated goal of this bill is to curb sectarianism, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson (HRCP) Hina Jilani stated, “HRCP believes it is likely to exacerbate the persecution of Pakistan’s beleaguered religious minorities and sects,” expressing grave concern over the toughening of already harsh blasphemy laws.

The HRCP claimed that making blasphemy a non-bailable offense directly contravenes Article 9’s guarantee of the right to personal liberty.

These amendments are likely to be weaponized disproportionately against religious minorities and sects, leading to bogus FIRs, harassment, and persecution, given Pakistan’s problematic history of the abuse of such laws.

According to Saroop Ijaz, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch in Asia said that, “the new legislation is very worrying.” He added that the current blasphemy laws in Pakistan have fostered and supported legal discrimination and persecution in the name of religion for many years.

Before legal proceedings can be completed, those accused of blasphemy against Islam run the possibility of becoming the target of mob justice, being fatally tortured, or being shot by enraged mobs. Many times, personal animosities or land disputes have given rise to frivolous blasphemy charges.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
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