10 February 2023

Staff Report



Citing concerns of minority groups, Federal Minister for Human Rights  Riaz Hussain Pirzada has urged the prime minister to withdraw a bill passed by the National Assembly for enhancing punishment over disrespecting religious personalities.

On January 17, the National Assembly unanimously passed Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023. The proposed legislation increases the punishment for using derogatory remarks against holy persons—including the Prophet (PBUH)’s family, wives and companions, and the four caliphs—from three years with a fine to imprisonment for life ‘which will not be less than ten years’.
The bill also makes the offence non-bailable. The bill was proposed by Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami.
Referring to the bill in his letter written to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the federal minister said the state had a duty to protect religious minorities as it was an Islamic injunction as well as a constitutional obligation.
Pirzada expressed concern over the haste adopted in the National Assembly to pass the bill for amendment in Section 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
“Minority groups have raised their eyebrows on ignoring a good practice in parliamentary business followed for amending a law to eliminate technical defects rather intending to persecute a specific group,” the letter said.

Pirzada said added that the bill was approved by the lower house without fulfilling constitutional requirements like quorum and a meaningful debate by standing committees. The federal minister said the bill was aimed to dominate the majority over the minority, therefore should be withdrawn.

Amendments to blasphemy laws create further room for persecution:
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had also expressed its deep concern over the bill’s passage, stating that it is likely to exacerbate the persecution of Pakistan’s beleaguered religious minorities and minority sects. The proposed legislation also makes the offence non-bailable, thereby directly violating the constitutionally guaranteed right to personal liberty under Article 9, the HRCP added.
“Given Pakistan’s troubled record of the misuse of such laws, these amendments are likely to be weaponised disproportionately against religious minorities and sects, resulting in false FIRs, harassment, and persecution,” the HRCP said.




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