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Religious parties threaten to lay siege to Sindh Assembly

By Zia Ur Rehman
December 07, 2016

Issue 15-day ultimatum to legislature to repeal law protecting minorities

Religious parties in Karachi have been trying to pressurise the Sindh government into repealing the new law that aims to protect the minorities of the province. Their contention? It “contradicts Islamic principles”.

On November 24 the provincial assembly had unanimously passed into law the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015 in a bid to prevent and criminalise forced religious conversions and subsequent forced marriages.

Under this law perpetrators could face a minimum of five years and a maximum of life in prison, while minors are forbidden from converting to another religion.

The proposed law was a private bill moved by opposition lawmaker Nand Kumar Goklani of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional. The bill was passed on the basis of a report of the Standing Committee on Minority Affairs, which had reviewed the bill.

On Monday Chief Minister’s Special Assistant on Religious Affairs Dr Abdul Qayyum Soomro had tried to pacify the Ulema, who had called on him, with the suggestion that a provincial chapter of the Council of Islamic Ideology could be constituted to address their concerns.

While the religious parties are united in their campaign against the new law, they are divided over devising a joint strategy to tackle the problem.

JUI-F’s meeting

On Tuesday the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) organised a multi-party conference at the Karachi Press Club to discuss the law. Prominent among those present were the JUI-F’s Allama Rashid Mehmood Soomro, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Dr Mairaj-ul-Huda, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Ali Akbar Gujjar, the Wifaq-ul-Madaris al Arabia’s Qari Hanif Jalandhari, the Wifaq-ul-Madaris al Shia’s Allama Jafar Nomani, the Tehreek-e-Islami’s Shujauddin Shaikh and the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen’s Maulana Maqsood Doomki.

The participants claimed that the new law was against the teachings of Islam, the Constitution of Pakistan and the Charter of the United Nations. After reaching a consensus, the religious parties threatened to lay siege to the Sindh Assembly if the legislature did not repeal the law in 15 days.

They announced constituting a coordination committee that would consult all religious parties to devise a joint strategy to force the government to withdraw the law. They also announced organising protest rallies across the province on Friday.

More conferences

On December 2 the JI had organised a similar meeting at the party’s headquarters in the city. The participants belonged to the JI, the JUI-F, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Tanzeem-e-Asatiza, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, the JUI, the Jamaat Ghuraba Ahle Hadees and groups of the Shia school of thought.

They termed the law a conspiracy of Pakistan’s enemies to destabilise the country. A consensus resolution passed at the conference urged the government to repeal the law with immediate effect.

Similarly, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan had organised a meeting of leaders of the Barelvi school of thought on Monday to oppose the new law. Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Mufti Jan Muhammad Naeemi, Allama Ghulam Dastageer Usmani and spiritual leaders of several shrines were prominent among the participants.

Not everyone is opposed

The Pakistan People’s Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional and the Awami National Party were absent from all the conferences against the new law.

Analysts believe that despite the same stance and reservations on the law, religious parties have been organising separate meetings because they are uncertain about the course of action. A journalist who covers religious parties in the city claimed that these groups have been “point-scoring” on the issue.

Prominent human rights and civil society activists have slammed the religious parties for opposing the law. They said forced conversions and marriages violated human rights as well as Islamic principles.

In a recent news conference at the press club, the Reat Network’s Krishan Sharma, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Asad Iqbal Butt, the Pakistan Hindu Council’s Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s Karamat Ali and rights activist Naghma Iqtidar congratulated and praised the members of the Sindh Assembly.

Sharma accused some religious groups and spiritual figures at some shrines of being involved in kidnapping young Hindu girls for forced conversions and marriages.

In a statement the HRCP asked the provincial administration not to give into the pressure being mounted on it and to ensure that the law is implemented to protect the minorities from forced conversions and marriages.