Right to choose: Bill against forced conversions likely to be tabled within days
LAHORE: Anyone forcing people to convert to another religion should face life imprisonment, states the newly prepared Punjab Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2017 which has been prepared by the provincial government.
PML-N MPA Hina Pervaiz Butt is likely to submit the bill at the Punjab Assembly secretariat within days. The objective of the bill is to criminalise forced conversions and provide for protection for those who are victims of such practices.
The 1973 Constitution protects the rights of all people to choose and practice their own religion and marry of their own will.
Forced conversion often involves making a person adopt another religion under duress, force, coercion or through a threat. The bill proposed that only should anyone convicted in such a case be jailed for life, but that compensation is ensured for the victim in the form of a fine. Minimum detention of five years was suggested in the bill.
It added that anyone who conducts, directs or in any helps a marriage in which either or both parties after are forced to convert should be liable to imprisonment for a period of either description and a minimum of three years. It adds a fine also must be paid to the victim or victims, as is the case.
Any person who is be an abettor to a forced conversion will face imprisonment for a period of either description or a minimum of five years. Plus, the convict must pay a fine to the victim.
In Section 3 of the bill, the “age of conversion” is discussed. It states any minor who claims to have changed their religion before reaching adulthood will not have been deemed to do so. It also clarified that no action shall be taken against the individual in such a case.
Talking about the ‘mechanism of complaint’, it was suggested that a victim, aggrieved person or any other individuals authorised by the forced convert, may present a petition to the court. It added the court’s jurisdiction should within the area of the victim’s area or residence of place of business.
The proposal asked that any case of forced conversion should be disposed of within a period of ninety days and any reasons for adjournment, given during the hearing of the petition, shall be granted for reasons recorded in writing by the court.
Allowing time for the true intentions of a ‘victim’, the bill proposed that 21 days be allowed as a grace period for independent decision before a petitioner can lodge a case of forced conversation under this proposed law.
During this time period, he or she may be provided the opportunity to study the comparative religions if he or she desires.
Upon completion of the time period, the alleged victim shall record a statement before the court, whether he or she has converted to another religion of their own will and consent.
Section 12 gives the court authority to take special measures for the victim, including holding the trial in a secure location and providing police protection.
The court will also provide adequate security to the prosecution witnesses, investigation officer, prosecutors and victim’s family.