World Report

Pakistan reforms laws to protect minorities

Pakistani legislators have moved to curb lynchings and mob violence against minority communities via a bill amending a number of criminal laws.

Under the reforms passed by the National Assembly, sectarian violence and forced conversions are outlawed while the deliberate use of words to hurt religious feelings, already an offence punishable by a year in prison, has been increased to one bringing a potential three-year term.

Significantly, in a move that has implications for the misuse of the nation’s blasphemy law, the reforms also increase the punishment for bringing false information to an official so as to cause that party to use lawful powers to injure a third party, meaning that persons guilty of malicious accusation will now face a seven-year term where the fraudulent accusation could mean a death penalty.

The reforms come in the face of years of mob attacks against minority groupings in Pakistan, most frequently sparked by questionable allegations of blasphemy against Islam.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s highest court has released on bail a Christian pastor who has spent the last three years in solitary confinement on charges of blasphemy.

Adnan Prince was arrested late in 2013 when a work colleague alleged to police that he had written messages abusive to the Prophet Mohamed and Islam in a book he was studying.

The Supreme Court in Lahore ruled that, in the absence of proper eyewitness testimony and a total lack of forensic evidence against prince, he should be immediately released.