Rights bodies present amendments to fix laws on minorities -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Rights bodies present amendments to fix laws on minorities

Pakistan Press Foundation

Karachi : Amendments proposed by AGHS Legal Aid Cell and HRCP are based on intensive research on federal and provincial laws which discriminate against religious minorities

The AGHS Legal Aid Cell and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan proposed on Friday amendments to the laws relating to religious minorities in Pakistan.

The initiative was launched at the Karachi Press Club.

The amendments are based on intensive research into federal and provincial laws which discriminate against religious minorities in the country.

(1) A law should be enacted to criminalise incitement to violence on the basis of religion. It should be worded in line with Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to read: “Any advocacy of sectarian or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years or fine up to Rs2,500,000, or both.”

(2) Through an amendment to Rule 7 of the National Database Rules, 2007, the marriage certificate issued by the Hindu Panchayat should be recognised as a valid document for purposes of issuance of certificate/national identity card under the rules, unless and until the government makes alternative provisions for registration.

(3) The Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act, 1975 should be repealed as a whole and evacuee properties be handed over to the recognised religious or community-based institutions/organisations of the relevant religious minorities.

(4) Until the above is done, religious minorities should be represented on the Evacuee Trust Property Board and the chairman should be from the requisite minority.

(5) The legal provisions regarding Zakat/Ushr are part of a larger trend towards Muslim-centric legislation and either ignore religious minorities or exclude them. These should be amended to provide (without any faith-based discrimination) for all citizens in need, an equal distribution of income support based on a uniform criterion.

The following amendments were proposed for Sindh’s laws:

(1) The problem of forced evictions needs to be tackled by changes to the law of land acquisition, to give special protection to minority groups to prevent their socially and economically weak position to be exploited.

(2) Legislation needs to be passed to ensure protection of places of worship, declaring these places high-security zones.

(3) Lawmakers should, without prejudice, review the outcome of the changes made in the offences against religion and amend it to make it compatible with human rights and protect an accused from mob violence and an unfair trial.

HRCP council member Uzma Noorani while discussing these amendments said most of the attacks on minorities were manipulated by the land mafia. In this context, she recalled an attack on the Christian community in the slaughter house vicinity two years ago where Christian residents of the area were driven out of their dwellings and were left high and dry, without shelter in cold weather.

The law-enforcement agencies, she added, were just idle spectators. She condemned the sending back of the bill on forced conversions that was passed unanimously by the elected representatives in the Sindh Assembly “for revision under pressure from the religious parties”.

Noted journalist and HRCP council member Ghazi Salahuddin, commenting on the role of the media, said, “We have to establish ties between the media and the civil society. The media cannot function in an atmosphere of hate and frenzy.”

The HRCP, he added, considered the religious minorities the most vulnerable group.

Trampling of minorities’ rights was a festering scar on our name, he said.  “The mindset has to be changed.”

HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf and Shanzay Tariq of the HRCP Lahore also spoke on the occasion.

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