Pakistan’s Punjab legislative assembly has passed a draconian bill named Tahaffuz Bunyaad-E-Islam on 23rd of July. The bill intends to protect the pillars of the Islam and to do so, it ends up giving more powers to the state which is already an authoritarian. It has triggered a massive controversy in Pakistan. It has been rejected by liberals, scholars of Sunni and Shia sects, along with activists.
The bill grants power to the Directorate General of Public Relations (DGPR) to visit and inspect any press, book store, and publication house; and confiscate books, before, after and during publishing. It makes it necessary for book dealers to give reports of books published or imported by them every three months. Not only this, four copies of the book published should be given to the authorised officer on the day of printing. The definition of the “book” is also long which includes pamphlets, charts, music-sheets, maps or scripts stored in the hard-disk or cloud.
New bill also makes it mandatory that “the blessed name of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be preceded by the title Khatam-an-Nabiyyin or Khatam-un-Nabiyyin followed by ‘Sallallahu alaihi wasallam’ (Darood) in Arabic text.” It also grants authority to the officer to stop import of any book which is “prejudicial to the national interest, culture, religious and sectarian harmony.” If someone fails to comply with the new law then s/he can be imprisoned which may “extend up to five years and with fine which may extend to Rs 500,000.”
Now the Punjab governor has declared that the bill will be signed after taking everyone into consensus but it is still dangerous at many levels considering the situation prevalent in Pakistan. The Islamic Republic already has blasphemy laws and its consequences are not hidden from the world.
Primary concern is it will be grossly misused to harass dissenters like it is happening in case of blasphemy laws. It can be used to take revenge due to personal grudges or harassing any dissenter by a powerful state. Lately, in the month of July, after the issue of temple construction in Islamabad, Pakistan’s former foreign minister and PML(N)’s stalwart Khawaja Asif commented that “all religions are equal.” A complaint against him was filed by PTI politician for this statement under blasphemy laws. The reason given was that the former dared to compare Muslims with Infidels which is blasphemous. Such is the state of affairs!
Under the new law, consequences will be more or less the same. If a student wants to import a book to learn the history of Indian Subcontinent wherein it may be described that Muslim invader has been defeated by Hindu ruler then it can be taken as an insult to the Islam. Books stating that Islam and other religions are equal, or doing comparative study of religious can be confiscated. If the new law comes into vogue, critical views against one religion can’t be published which will produce proverbial frogs in the well.
Second, the act will be surely used to harass the minorities and especially Ahmadis. State already deals with them apathetically. Ahmadis don’t consider Muhammad as the last prophet which is an essential condition to be Muslim in the Pakistan. As per Pakistan Penal Code 298-B, Ahmadis, can’t call their religious place as ‘mosque’, can’t label their ‘call for prayer’ as ‘azan’ and can’t preach their faith. The forthcoming law will make printing of their religious books more difficult.
A data released by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace reveals, a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused of blasphemy from 1987 to 2018. Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus don’t even constitute more than 4% of the population of the country by liberal measure, but they account for half of cases accused of blasphemy. Undoubtedly, this law too will be used to harass the minorities and make it difficult to publish their history and religious books.
Third, the unintended consequence of the act will be closure of the publishing industry. Once authors, editors or publishers are charged under this law, their lives will be under threat in Pakistan. As it often happens with blasphemy accused, they will be subject to mob lynching and shooting. In such deteriorating situations, it will be challenging for industry to survive.
This passed bill, which can become law in the coming days will give more power to ‘Big Brother’ in the Orwellian sense to increase surveillance on the citizens. It will further curb remnant freedom of expression and harass minorities who are barely managing to survive.
Image Credit: Human Rights Watch