The Pakistan National Assembly has further tightened its strict blasphemy laws by extending the punishment for those found instigating religious sentiment and figures connected to Prophet Muhammad. A unanimous bill passed by the Pakistani assembly that will now increase more severe punishments and fines for those convicted under it has now escalated concern among human rights activists and observers reported Independent.
Notably, human rights activists are now concerned that the new amendment could be “weaponised disproportionately” against minorities, as it will widen the prospect of persecution for some, especially religious minorities, including Hindus and Christians.
Concern over tightening of blasphemy laws
According to the new changes introduced in the law, anyone convicted of abusing or insulting the Prophet’s wives, companions, or relatives will face 10 years in prison or life imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs 1 million Pakistani rupees ($4,500 or £3,489). Further, the law makes blasphemy offence a non-bailable crime.
“The punishment for insulting a member of parliament is five years, while the punishment for insulting sacred personalities is three years,” said Abdul Akbar Chitrali, the lawmaker who drafted the bill. While passing the bill, Chitrali told the house, “May this bill be a cause of our salvation, and may Allah grant our rulers the ability to implement the bill in letter and spirit.” He added, “This is an insult in itself.”
The legislation was hailed by Zahid Akram Durrani, the deputy speaker, who called it “historic” and congratulated the lawmakers. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed concern over the law, saying it is “likely to exacerbate the persecution of Pakistan’s beleaguered religious minorities and minority sects.”
“Given Pakistan’s troubled record of the misuse of such laws, these amendments are likely to be weaponized disproportionately against religious minorities and sects, resulting in false FIRs [the first step towards a police complaint], harassment, and persecution,” the statement added.
However, Pakistan has always been cruel towards those found saying anything against Prophet Muhammad as earlier, a Pakistani Christian woman was sent to death row after being accused of blasphemy, but was acquitted. Also, the law has triggered the fear that mob lynchings of those accused of blasphemy could now become a common occurrence across the country.