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January 7, 2017

Sindh governor returns forced conversion bill

Top Story

January 7, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Following the advice of Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Governor Sindh Saeeduzzaman Siddiqi on Friday returned the controversial bill unanimously adopted by the Sindh Assembly recently against forced conversions.

Sources said that besides the chief minister’s advice, the governor Sindh had also received a formal request from the MQM that wanted that the bill should not be approved.While returning the bill, the governor also considered the resolution of the Council of Islamic Ideology, terming the bill as un-Islamic besides taking into consideration the protests from different religious groups against the legislation.

The chief minister, in his advice to the governor, said that the government wanted certain changes in the language of the bill and thus does not want its approval in its present shape.

The MQM conveyed to the governor that the bill was passed in haste without giving the members adequate time to study it. The sources said that the MQM also raised a question on the process adopted to pass the bill.

The governor, while returning the bill, cited all these reasons and directed that through a meaningful consultative process, which includes all the stakeholders, such an enactment be made which should develop harmony among followers of different religions instead of creating friction between them.

In November last year, the Sindh Assembly had unanimously passed the bill, which invited strong criticism as it contained some provisions that are considered un-Islamic and unconstitutional.

The bill became controversial for the reason that it contained a provision under which no under 18 person could convert to Islam even out of his free will and choice. Such a bar is not only considered against the teachings of Islam but also in violation of the Constitution.

Following protest by the religious parties, the PPP recently announced to review the bill to ensure that it does not conflict with the Islamic teachings.No less than the Co-chairman Pakistan People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari gave his word to the Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Sirajul Haq to strike down the recently passed forced conversion bill in the Sindh Assembly. According to media reports, Siraj thanked the PPP leader for taking into consideration the religious parties’ reservations against the bill.

Earlier, the Sindh Assembly had unanimously passed a bill against forced religious conversions in the province. The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2016 was tabled by PML-F’s Nand Kumar and Khatu Mal Jeewan.

According to the bill, change of religion will not be recognised until the person reaches 18 years of age. At least seven years for perpetrators and five-year jail was recommended for facilitators of forced conversions. Moreover, the bill said that adults considering changing their religion be provided with a safe house to live for 21 days to ensure that they are making the said decision without any coercion.