A Christian charity has raised concerns about efforts to ramp up blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
The legislation is already infamous, with those found in contradiction to the laws facing abhorrent punishment – sometimes, even death.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023 will see the official punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed’s companions, wives, and family members extended from a three year prison sentence to life imprisonment, not to be less than ten years.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) fears that the amendment will further fuel religious division in the country, after incidents of mob killings relating to blasphemy claims.
Last year, student Deborah Samuel was killed in a stairwell following allegations of blasphemy after she praised Jesus for helping her pass her exams. She published the message in a Whatsapp group chat. Her killers have still not been charged.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws criminalise anyone who insults Islam, including by “outraging religious feeling,” which carries either the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The charity says they’re concerned that the laws are already often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property or business.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: "CSW is deeply disappointed by the passage of the Criminal Amendment Act 2023, given the overwhelming evidence of how existing blasphemy legislation has resulted in extra-judicial killings and countless incidents of mob violence based on false accusations.
“Making the blasphemy laws more stringent could inflame the situation further and is the opposite of what is needed.
“The National Commission for Minorities Bill 2023, meanwhile, is a missed opportunity to enact legislation that safeguards the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, as policymakers have failed to engage with the demands of civil society organisations and minority community leaders.
“Pakistan must do more to protect its most vulnerable minority communities by upholding its international obligations and the guarantees enshrined within the country’s constitution.
“The government must also consult and listen to these communities."