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Pakistan: Federal Government Plans to Introduce Legislation Prohibiting Apostasy Pronouncements

(Sept. 21, 2015)  According to a September 10, 2015, news report, the Federal Government of Pakistan is considering legislation to prohibit takfir, a religious pronouncement or clerical ruling that declares one Muslim or group of Muslims to be non-believers or apostates.  A government official was reported to have stated, “[u]nder new laws, no one will be allowed to declare a member of any other Muslim sect apostate.” The new legislation is also expected to tackle the issue of financing of sectarian groups in Pakistan.  (Zahid Gishkori, Govt Mulls Criminalisation of Muslims Declaring One Another ‘Kafir,’ EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Sept. 10, 2015).)

Discussions of the possible new legislation appear to have been held in the context of a high-level meeting held on September 10, reviewing progress made in implementing the country’s National Action Plan (NAP).  (Abdul Manan & Zahid Gishkori, Top Civil-Military Huddle Announces Crackdown Against Sectarianism, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Sept. 10, 2015).)  The NAP was initiated in late December 2014, following the Peshawar school massacre, when the Prime Minister announced a 20-point program to counter terrorism that included proposals to counter hate speech and extremist materials.  (Abdul Manan, Fight Against Terrorism: Defining Moment, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Dec. 25, 2014).)

In the recent meeting, the country’s top civil-military leadership “approved a countrywide crackdown against sectarianism.”  The Interior Minister stated that the government is targeting hate speech and hate literature, and he was quoted as saying that “[t]here will be no tolerance for calling each other infidel or liable to be killed [or, deserving of death, Wajib -ul Qatal].”  He further commented that “[t]here is a very thin line between sectarianism and terrorism.  They both go hand-in-hand.” (Manan & Gishkori, supra.)

Current Law on Hate Speech

Currently, Pakistan has a number of laws that attempt to challenge sectarian hate speech. Section 153-A of the Penal Code contains a general provision that prohibits the incitement of enmity between different groups, including on the grounds of religion.  (Pakistan Penal Code (Oct. 6, 1860, as amended), § 153-A, Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency website.)  Section 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Act also prohibits acts intended to or likely to stir up sectarian hatred.  (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, No. 27 of 1997, § 8, PUNJAB CODE.)

Some critics have called into question the seriousness of the effort of the state to deal with sectarianism effectively.  They have highlighted the fact that even the second amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution has declared the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect to be non-Muslim.  (Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, Addressing Constitutional Takfir, FRIDAY TIMES (Sept. 11, 2015).)