The National Assembly on Tuesday passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, proposing stricter punishment for blasphemy under Section 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Section 298-A pertains to the defiling of the name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen) or members of the family (Ahle Bait) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or any of the Caliphs (Khulafa Raashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). It also suggests imprisonment of up to three years or a nominal fine or both.
Statement of objects of the bill piloted by Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) said that some people were committing blasphemy on the internet and social media.
“Due to capital punishment under Section 295-C, the ratio of people involved in blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is very low. However, the fact may be observed that disrespecting a companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and other sacred personalities not only promotes terrorism and disruption in the country but also hurts people belonging to all walks of life.”
The bill argued that since it was a bailable crime and only resulted in imprisonment of three years along with a nominal penalty, it “encouraged people to commit the same crime again”.
Such lenient punishment also leads to people taking the law into their own hands, resulting in violence, it said.
“It is the responsibility of the parliament to review all factors through which terrorist activities are promoted, by comprehending this matter with sensitivity and seriousness.”
With the bill sailing through the Lower House unanimously, the punishment for committing blasphemy under Section 298-A has been increased from three years to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects, while penalties are light for those who make such false accusations.
Lahore-based Center for Social Justice noted that at least 1,949 persons had been accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021.
Eighteen more cases were reported till July 14, 2022. The victims included 47.62 percent Muslims, followed by 32.99 percent Ahmadis, 14.42 percent Christians, and 2.15 percent Hindus, while the religion of 2.82 percent is not confirmed.