Lawmakers belonging to the country’s minority communities have declared October 13 as “Black Day” in protest against a parliamentary committee’s rejection of the anti-forced conversion bill amid religious affairs, human rights and parliamentary affairs ministries’ opposition of the same.
As per the details, the bill came under discussion during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions, where Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the “environment was unfavourable” for formulating a law against forced conversions.
“Forming a law on forced conversions can deteriorate peace and may create more problems for the minorities in the country,” the minister said and added that the provincial governments, the National Assembly speaker and the Prime Minister’s Office may take other measures to end forced conversions.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the issue of forced conversions had already been raised before the prime minister, who had formed a special parliamentary committee on the matter.
“According to the Constitution, no law can be formed against the Shariah,” he said, adding that legislation on forced conversions was being opposed as setting an age limit with regards to the subject “was against Islam”.
“We are serious about [addressing] the problem of forced conversions,” Khan said, adding that the law on the subject, however, was to be formed to address the issue “and not for getting appreciation from an international organisation or a non-governmental organisation”.
It may be noted that clerics had in August expressed reservations over the bill, citing reasons similar to Khan’s. They had called it a conspiracy and suggested that the government should “not fall into the trap of the West by taking it to parliament”.
The minister informed the committee that Law Minister Farogh Naseem had called him to his office and cautioned him against legislating on the matter, terming the move “dangerous”.
“He (Naseem) said to me that [being given] ministries is of little value as they come and go, but we should not go against Islam,” Khan added.
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Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was also among the lawmakers that opposed the bill on Wednesday.
“This bill is un-Islamic,” he said, arguing there was no need for such a bill when forced conversion “didn’t even exist” in Pakistan.
Another committee member, Maulvi Faiz Ahmed, also said the bill was against Islam and Shariah. “And we will not allow any legislation in this country that is against Islam,” he added.
MINORITIES’ LAWMAKERS PROTEST:
Rejecting the Muslim members’ remarks, minorities’ members of the committee declared October 13 as “Black Day” in the country’s history and said such decisions would make the lives of people from other religious communities a living hell.
They decried that young people from their communities were being kidnapped in broad daylight and forcibly converted to Islam, while also lamenting the fact that Muslim members had taken the stance that forced conversion was not a problem in Pakistan.
Ruling party’s MNA Lal Chand Malhi said that the bill was owned by the Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Religious Affairs. “However, both ministers have now taken a U-turn and disowned the bill on the instructions of Mian Mithu.
The Pir of Bharchundi Sharif, Pir Abdul Haq, aka Mian Mithu, has time and again been accused of forced conversions of Hindu girls in rural Sindh.
In response to allegations by Malhi, Al Muhammad Khan accused him of making false and political statements.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar said that Hindus were not converting to Islam out of their own will. “Young Hindu girls are either offered money or promised marriage in a love affair.”
Taking a jibe at Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan, Christian community lawmaker Naveed Amir Jeeva said the premier’s “Taliban-like” mentality had prevailed. He went on to accuse the government of robbing minority communities of their rights.
‘ANTI-ISLAMIC, ILLEGAL, VIOLATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS’:
On September 23, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had returned the draft of the Anti-Forced Conversion Bill to the Federal Ministry for Human Rights after raising objections on several clauses of the proposed legislation.
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A press statement released by the Religious Affairs Ministry had stated that it was opposed to the clauses related to the 18-year age bar on religion conversion, appearance before a judge, and a 90-day waiting period, saying these restrictions were anti-Islamic, illegal and violated the fundamental constitutional rights of an individual.
The bill had proposed that any non-Muslim, who is not a child, and is able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from an additional sessions judge of the area where he or she is residing.
The draft law highlighted that the application would have to include the name of a non-Muslim who is willing to change the religion, age and gender, CNIC number, details of parents, siblings, children and spouse (if any), current religion and the reason to convert to the new religion.
The draft law stated that the additional sessions judge would set a date for interview within seven days of receipt of an application for conversion, and on the date, the judge would ensure that the conversion was not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation.
After satisfaction, the judge will issue the certificate of change of religion.
The proposed law also awarded punishment between five to 10 years and a fine from Rs100,000 to Rs200,000 to any person who uses criminal force to convert a person to another religion.
While any person who was an abettor to a forced conversion would be liable to imprisonment from three to five years and a fine of Rs100,000.
It had been highlighted that the age of the person willing to convert his/her religion would be determined by either the child’s birth certificate, or school enrolment certificate, or Nadra B-Form.
“Only in the absence of such forms the child’s age may be determined on the basis of a medical examination,” the draft added.
The proposed law also stated that the case of forced conversion would have to be disposed of within 90 days by the court, while an appeal against conviction or acquittal of an offence under this Act could be presented before the respective high court within ten days from the date on which copy of the order passed by the Court of Session was supplied to the appellant.