Pak draft apostasy law 'disturbing', says HRCP

Lahore, Pakistan - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Chairperson Asma Jahangir has expressed grave concern over Government plans to introduce a law to punish apostasy.

In a statement issued on Friday, the HRCP said: "It is imperative that the authorities carefully consider any decision in this regard given the tendency to abuse laws in the country."

It further went on to say that "the blasphemy law, widely used to settle petty, personal disputes is a case in point with suffering inflicted on many innocent persons through its misuse."

"There is as such a danger the new law could ignite further sectarian friction and acrimony," the Daily Times quoted the HRCP statement, as saying.

It warned that a new law on religion may further damage the country's standing in the comity of nations, particularly at a time when violence by extremist groups has already brought it a bad name.

Under the bill's terms, apostates would be sentenced to death or life in prison. Testimony by two adults is the only independent evidence needed to determine or demonstrate apostasy. Lahore archbishop is praying the bill is never adopted.

Tabled by a six-party politico-religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal or MMA, the Apostasy Act 2006, which the government sent to a National Assembly committee, would impose the death penalty on Muslim men and life in prison on Muslim women in case they leave Islam. It would also force them to forfeit their property and lose legal custody of children.

Should the bill become law anyone who leaves Islam for another religion can be sentenced to death (if male) or life in prison 'until repentance occurs' (if female).Section 5 stipulates that the 'offender' must be granted 3 to 30 days to recant the conversion and return to Islam. But even in cases where the person returns to Islam judges can impose two-year sentences as punishment for the original 'crime'. The accused can convert and reconvert up to three times before the death sentence becomes automatic.

Under Section 8 apostates forfeit all their properties which are awarded only to their Muslim relatives. Section 9 says that they also lose custody to any minor in their care and guardianship, including their biological children.