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Punjab passes bill to protect Islam

Pakistani activists are concerned that the legislation will be used to harass religious minorities

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Punjab passes bill to protect Islam

Pakistani supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami chant slogans during a protest in Karachi on Nov. 4, 2018, following the Supreme Court decision to acquit Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy. (Photo: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP)

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Christian activists have slammed lawmakers in Punjab for passing a bill that aims to protect Islam and prohibit blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the holy figures of all religions.

The provincial assembly on July 22 passed the Punjab Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam (Protection of Foundation of Islam) Bill 2020 under which the printing and publication of objectionable material are prohibited.

The new law made it mandatory that "the blessed name of Prophet Muhammad” shall be preceded by the title Khatam-an-Nabiyyin (the last prophet of God) followed by “sallallahu alaihi wasallam” (peace be upon him) in Arabic text.

The restrictions bar publishing literature of blasphemous nature, pictures of suicide bombers, terrorists, bodies of victims of terrorist activities and statements.

Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi said that a bill of the “same nature” should be passed by all provincial assemblies.

A member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party last week tabled a resolution in the Punjab Assembly calling for a ban on trimming beards into fashionable styles and seeking a crackdown on barbers “for acting against the prophet’s traditions.”

According to Kashif Aslam, program coordinator for the Pakistan Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, the latest bill is also part of the populist narrative.

“Religious minorities are being pushed to the wall as the fancy concept of turning Pakistan into Riyasat-e-Madina, the Islamic version of a welfare state, gains strength. The bill opens a window of opportunity for rights-based organizations. It is time to tell right from wrong and demand the repeal of blasphemy laws against any religion,” he told UCA News.

Khalid Shehzad, a Catholic member of the National Lobbying Delegation, demanded the investigation of both the complainant and accused before registering blasphemy cases.

“We only demand protection from the state. Such laws can be lethal in our culture where the public has generally misconceptions and preconceived notions about religions other than Islam. Legislation is needed to protect the families of victims,” he said.

“In cases of blasphemy, clerics and religious leaders of the concerned locality should be taken on board. Police should also check the status of complainants who often victimize minorities to settle personal vendettas.”

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, formulated in the 1980s, make an insult of the Quran an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty to anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Church leaders have long claimed that the blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims. Most blasphemy cases in Punjab involve Christians, they say.

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