Pakistan legislators mull death for converts from Islam

In a move condemned by Pakistan's Catholic bishops, the south Asian country's National Assembly is considering an apostasy bill proposed by a pro-Taliban coalition of religious parties that imposes death on Muslim men who convert from Islam.

The Gospel Herald reports that the Apostasy Act 2006 was introduced by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal - a coalition of six pro-Taliban religious parties - and was sent to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice last week.

If passed, the bill would also force convicted persons to forfeit their property and lose legal custody of any minor children.

"This situation is unfortunate and sad. We demand freedom of conscious, religion and expression in Pakistan, and this bill is contrary to the principle of freedom of choice," said Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, head of National Commission for Justice and Peace and chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, according to AsiaNews.

According to Section 4 of the bill, the testimony of two adults about someone leaving the Muslim faith, or the confession of the accused, is all that is needed for conviction.

However, in some courts testimony by non-Muslims is prohibited and is an added negative factor in the case of the accused.

"Because international human rights charters give every individual the right to change his or her religion according to his or her conscience, we hope and pray that this bill will not be passed," Archbishop Saldanha said.

Also, in the same session last week, lawmakers who approved the draft of the apostasy bill rejected a draft bill that would ease the country's current blasphemy laws.

The rejected bill called for an amendment of the blasphemy bill that would give equal treatment for Pakistanis of all faith. The current laws only punish those who have dishonoured the Quran or Prophet Mohammad.

The rejected bill called for prohibiting dishonouring the holy books of all religions. The amendment also proposed that if the accusations are found false then the accusers would be fined and imprisoned.

"The National Assembly of Pakistan has taken two steps backwards in religious freedom," said Faith McDonnell, religious liberty director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a statement.

"They are entertaining legislation that violates international standards of human rights. They have also rejected a bill to reform Pakistan's misused blasphemy laws."

Pakistan Considers Bill Condemning Muslim Converts to Death (Gospel Herald, 15/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan (Wikipedia)
Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (Wikipedia)
Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha
Clement Shahbaz Bhatti (Pakistan Christian Post)

Woolmer farewelled at Lahore cathedral service (CathNews, 2/4/07)
Pakistan to loosen blasphemy laws (CathNews, 25/1/07)
Pakistan bishop urges repeal of death sentence for blasphemy (CathNews, 23/7/06)
Pakistan Archbishop alarmed by decline in religious freedom (CathNews, 15/7/04)
Pakistani Christian dies after prison beating (CathNews, 2/6/04)
Pakistan president seeks review of blasphemy laws (CathNews, 21/5/04)
Another Christian's blasphemy trial commences in Pakistan (Cathnews, 25/7/03)

16 May 2007