01/23/2023, 11.28
PAKISTAN
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Islamabad tightens blasphemy laws

by Shafique Khokhar

The amendment to the penal code provides for a minimum of 10 years in prison for anyone who insults figures associated with the Prophet Mohammed, with fines of up to  Expected to pay one million rupees. Human rights defenders express  concern: "We need safeguards against the improper use of the law".

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Parliament has strengthened the infamous blasphemy laws. The legislation, which already contemplates the death penalty for anyone who offends Islam, now also provides for at least 10 years in prison for anyone who insults the wives, companions and family members of the Prophet Mohammed.

Human rights activists have expressed serious concern about this amendment to the penal code which risks, once again, being used improperly: for some time now, false accusations of blasphemy have been launched for revenge or settling scores.

The National Assembly approved the amendment last week: it modified article 298 of the penal code, which provided for a maximum of seven years in prison for those who insult sacred figures. In addition to the prison sentence having been increased, which ranges from a minimum of 10 years to life, there is now also the payment of one million rupees (about 4,500 dollars).

Human rights defenders have pointed out that the characters referred to in these laws are examples of tolerance and forgiveness and such severe penalties are instead at odds with the teachings they promote.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Joseph Jansen, president of the Voice for Justice organization, said that the approval of the amendment "will broaden the scope of application of blasphemy laws, when instead it would be necessary to introduce safeguards against their improper use".

“Blasphemy laws have allowed and encouraged discrimination and legal persecution in the name of religion,” Jansen added. "And they run counter to international human rights standards because they are applied without investigating whether the accused committed an act of blasphemy intentionally or not."

According to activist Ashiknaz Khokhar, there are several pieces of evidence showing that "the stricter the law, the harsher the punishment, the more violent society becomes," he commented. “With each new amendment to the blasphemy laws we move further and further away from a possible turnaround.”

On the other hand, lawyer Rana Abdul Hameed explained that blasphemy accusations have not spared the digital space and "have become a new norm in Pakistan, where complaints are made even just for liking, commenting or forwarding content on social networks media, under the 2016 Electronic Crime Prevention Act, which has led to a further increase in the persecution of religious minorities.”

On the contrary, underlined the human rights activist, Ilyas Samuel, those who present complaints "with evil motives, harmful to public order, peace and social cohesion, are not prosecuted and enjoy impunity despite being involved in acts of discrimination, intolerance, hatred and violence against religious communities. Instead - he continued - innocent people who share their reactions to posts on social media are arrested and sentenced to death ”.

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