05/09/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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New apostasy bill to impose death on anyone who leaves Islam

by Qaiser Felix
Pakistan’s government sends draft bill tabled by six-party Islamic alliance to standing committee for review. Under the bill’s terms, apostates would be sentenced to death or life in prison. Testimony by two adults is the only independent evidence needed to determine or demonstrate apostasy. Lahore archbishop is praying the bill is never adopted.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A draft bill adopted in first reading by Pakistan’s National Assembly is now before a standing committee. Tabled by a six-party politico-religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal or MMA, the Apostasy Act 2006 which the government sent to the committee would impose the death penalty on Muslim men and life in prison on Muslim women in case they leave Islam. It would also force them to forfeit their property and lose legal custody of children.

During the same session, lawmakers rejected another draft bill moved by minority MNA Bhandara which sought to amend the existing blasphemy law.

“This situation is unfortunate and sad. We demand freedom of conscious, religion and expression in Pakistan, and this bill is contrary to the principle of freedom of choice”, said Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, head of National Commission for Justice and Peace and chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“Because international human rights charters give every individual the right to change his or her religion according to his or her conscience, we hope and pray that this bill will not be passed,” Mgr Saldanha said.

Should the bill become law anyone who leaves Islam for another religion can be sentenced to death (if male) or life in prison ‘until repentance occurs’ (if female).

Section 4 of the bill says that the offender’s own confession in court or the testimony by at least two adults is sufficient grounds for conviction in apostasy cases. Testimony by non Muslims is not however admissible in certain Pakistani courts.

Section 5 stipulates that the ‘offender’ must be granted 3 to 30 days to recant the conversion and return to Islam. But even in cases where the person returns to Islam judges can impose two-year sentences as punishment for the original ‘crime’. The accused can convert and reconvert up to three times before the death sentence becomes automatic.

Under Section 8 apostates forfeit all their properties which are awarded only to their Muslim relatives. Section 9 says that they also lose custody to any minor in their care and guardianship, including their biological children.

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