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Forced conversions: Panel rejects proposed legislation – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion rejected on Wednesday, the proposed legislation that aimed at protection of members of minorities from forced conversions, saying this decision was taken in “wider public interest,” and recommended that the existing laws against forced conversions be implemented in letter and spirit.

The committee met under the chairmanship of Senator Liaquat Khan Tarakai from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

In the meeting, the committee reviewed the decisions taken by the former parliamentary panel related to proposed legislation on the protection of minorities against forced conversion before rejecting them.

Religious parties’ senators; Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Molvi Faiz Muhammad from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) opposed the decision taken by the former parliamentary committee to fix 18-year as minimum age for the voluntary change of religion.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan also spoke against the proposed bill.

He said the legislative draft was sent to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).

The ministry, in consultation with the CII, rejected the bill, he said.

Member National Assembly (MNA) Ramesh Kumar Vankwani proposed to hold voting on the bill.

“Voting cannot be held on any bill that is against the spirit of Islam,” the state minister replied.

Khan said Prime Minister Imran Khan “is not only the prime minister of Muslims but the entire Pakistan. He is extremely worried about minorities—our government, under his leadership, is taking active steps for the protection of minorities’ rights.”

He said a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Anwarul Haq Kakar to review the existing laws against forced conversions (and not to formulate proposals for new legislation.)

Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said effective laws already exist in Pakistan against forced religious conversions.

“In the presence of these laws, no new law is required. What is required is the implementation of existing laws in letter and spirit,” he said.

MNA Lal Chand proposed to hold debate in the committee regarding minimum age for voluntary conversion and other disputed clauses in the proposed legislation.

He also proposed that the government carry out legislation against forced religious conversions.

The chairman committee and the state minister parliamentary affairs agreed with the proposal.

The committee members from religious parties sounded dismissive of the issue of forced conversions in Pakistan, while insisting that no such problem existed.

The chairman announced that the committee decided to reject the bill keeping in view the recommendations of the relevant ministries— in the context of Islam, Constitution, law and existing circumstances— adding that the decision was taken in wider public interest.

The committee then recommended that the government implement in letter and spirit the existing laws against forced religious conversions.

On August 8, the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion, under the leadership of the then Convenor Dr Sikandar Mandhro, unanimously, recommended that any person under the age of 18 be considered minor.

Any person who wants to change his/her religion is required to move an application to the magistrate concerned and the conversion would be considered legal only after its registration by the magistrate following due process, the committee unanimously recommended.

It considered the proposal suggesting jail term of five to 10 years for any person involved in forced religious conversion and punishment of three to five year to facilitator(s).

However, the present committee has rejected the proposed legislation on forced religious conversions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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