I subscribe to the RSS feed for the Library of Congress’ Global Legal Monitor. On February 14, 2023, the following article appeared in my feed: “Pakistan: Amendment to Blasphemy Law Passes in Lower House of Parliament.” The headline is a bit ambiguous. A wide-eyed optimist might see the headline and think this is good news for Pakistan’s Christian minority, against whom the blasphemy laws are often wielded as a tool of persecution. However, I am no wide-eyed optimist. I saw the proverbial punchline from a mile away. Sure enough…
On January 17, 2023, the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s federal Parliament, unanimously passed an amendment to Pakistan’s blasphemy law through the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023. This private member’s bill was introduced by Moulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, a member of the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami. In the statement of objects and reasons for the bill, he highlights blasphemy on the internet and social media and asserts that disrespecting the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and other sacred personalities ‘not only promotes the terrorism and disruption in the country but it also hurts the people from all walks of life.’ In an Express Tribune news report, he stated that ‘[t]he punishment for insulting a member of parliament is five years, while the punishment for insulting the sacred personalities is three years. This is an insult in itself.’
I had a thought here. The logic behind implementing harsher punishments for insulting Muhammad’s companions was that one faced more prison time for insulting members of the Pakistani parliament than for insulting Muhammad’s companions. Under the new legislation, the punishment for insulting Muhammad’s companions would be “imprisonment for life which shall not be less than ten years.” Now if this passes, under the logic that led to the bill, it would seem that Pakistan’s parliament could also increase the punishment for insulting parliamentary members, so long as said punishment is less than that associated with insulting Muhammad’s companions.
But far be it from me to offer legal advice to the Pakistani Parliament (I don’t think they would be too open to it).