July 29, 2020
Lawmakers of the Punjab Assembly are not even aware of the content of the Bill that they have passed recently to ‘protect’ Islam. Following objections by Shia clerics and civil society, the Speaker of Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has assured to stop the implementation of the Tahaffuz-e-Bunyaad-e-Islam Act 2020.
Meanwhile the delegation of Shia Ulema Council Punjab met with Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and shared their reservations on the Bill in writing to the Speaker.
Speaking at Aaj TV’s primetime show ‘Spotlight with Munizae Jahangir’, MPA and spokesperson of the Punjab Government, Musarrat Jamshed Cheema said that the government had no intention to single out any sect or community. In fact the government intended to address everyone’s concerns.
“There is no harm in addressing anyone’s concerns even if there is a 0.01 percent chance of any insecurity,” said Cheema.
Musarrat Cheema agreeing to Ms Jahangir who is the host of the show and the Editor in Chief of Voicepk.net, said that it would have been better if the government had consulted with the Shia community before passing the legislation however there was nothing to worry about even now. “We are planning to clear all doubts and secure everyone’s rights before moving forward,” she stated.
On the other hand, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Punjab, Syed Murtaza Hassan said that he believed the issue to be very sensitive especially with refernce to the historical context.
“Everyone should be very careful while discussing these issues because we all have a very close emotional connection with our own ideology and beliefs; hence nobody is willing to compromise on them. So whenever there is a chance of hurting any community’s sentiments, it is the responsibility of the parliament to address their reservations,” said the PPP lawmaker.
Mr Hassan added that nobody could disagree with any legislation to protect Islam and indivuidals or personalities who are promoting its teachings across the board, but when it comes to this particular bill, this was drafted and passed in a hurry.
“Our assembly is incomplete as the standing committees have not even been formed yet,” he said. “All the legislative work is being done through special committees but since there is no proper representation of all parties in those committees the issue comes to the floor directly,” he said.
The PPP lawmaker revealed that neither had the copy of the Bill been distributed among the members, nor was a single paper on the Bill distributed as part of the day’s agenda while all kinds of legislation is normally done through an announcement of a one liner or the title of the Bill.
“I reached assembly when the last speeches were made but nobody in my knowledge was aware of what exactly the bill was about”, said Murtaza Hassan.
PMLN’s Malik Ahmed Khan also pointed out that the assembly is supposed to have three readings of any bill but when the Bill is not even provided during the assembly proceedings it cannot be called a ‘working of the assembly’.
“The opposition had resigned from the standing committees due to certain issues and instead of resolving those issues, special committees were constituted to make an automatic process of a rubber stamp,” he said. “So technically the bill has not been made by the assembly at all, in fact it is actually the government formulating them.”
Khan also said that the basic premise of the Constitution has been shattered because when the assembly is dysfunctional and not performing up to the mark, then the standing committees are also not working. How then can it be called a functional assembly?
Renowned academic, Dr Ammar Ali Jan said that it is now clear that members of the assembly do not even read the bills, and when they do not even read the bill then what is the meaning of banning books especially when there is already a dire need of encouraging people to read.
“The joke and crisis over here is that book reading has decreased to a large extent and people are distancing themselves from knowledge, so now such powers have been given to bureaucrats which allow a 19th grade officer to decide whether a book can be read or taught to students instead of scholars or professors”, added Dr Jan.
He also questioned, will the academics have to prove how every book will be helpful if read, consequently terming it ‘very dangerous’ while commenting on how the conversation needs to be increased around important questions facing our society.
Restrictions on Publications
According to the Protection of Islam Bill, the Directorate General of Public Relations (DGPR) is empowered to visit and inspect the premises of the printing presses, offices of the publication houses and book stores. The DGPR also has the authority to refuse permission to import, print, or publish a book ‘if it is prejudicial to the ‘national interest’, culture, religious and sectarian harmony’.
The unanimously passed bill also stops the ‘the publisher, editor, or translator from printing or publishing any book and material that consists of photographs or pictures of suicide bombers, terrorists, except as required by law enforcing agencies for purposes of investigation’.
It will be mandatory for the book importers to provide a list of books imported by them to an authorised officer within 15 days of the import. It also bounds publishers to send memoranda of books published by the company every three months. The publisher on the same day of the printing of a book shall provide four copies of every edition of a book.