Ministers in Pakistan have voted to make the country’s controversial blasphemy laws more stringent, sparking alarm for religious minorities, including Christians.
This week, the National Assembly unanimously passed an amendment to the Criminal Laws Bill which increases punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed’s companions, wives, and family members from three years to ten years imprisonment, along with a £3,500 (1 million rupees) fine.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws criminalise anyone who insults Islam, with punishments including the death penalty and life imprisonment.
Christian persecution watchdog CSW said the laws are very loosely defined and have therefore been easily used against Muslims and non-Muslims as a “weapon of revenge” for situations such as disputes over money or land.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is deeply concerned by the provisions in this Bill, which were approved without debate by Pakistan’s parliament despite the fact that existing blasphemy legislation has resulted in extra-judicial killings and countless incidents of mob violence based on false accusations.
“Policymakers have ignored the long-standing demands of civil society organisations and minority community leaders for the repeal of the blasphemy laws or at the very least the introduction of procedural amendments to curb the misuse of these laws.
“Pakistan must do more to protect its most vulnerable minority communities by upholding its international obligations and
guarantees enshrined within the country’s constitution, and the international community must hold the government to account for where it fails or refuses to do so.”
For many years, human rights and minority organisations in Pakistan have been calling for a U-turn of the nations’ blasphemy laws. In 2011 Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was a prominent critic of the blasphemy laws, was killed by his bodyguard.