ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday passed a key bill seeking amendments to various laws, aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system and curbing sectarianism and persecution of minorities in the country.

The bill, titled the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, now requires formal assent of the president to become an act of the parliament. It amends the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860; the Police Act 1861; the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898; the Qanoon-i-Shahadat 1984 and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons says that “terrorism, sectarianism and extremism have gripped the entire country and these acts have become the order of the day. The country is passing through an extraordinary situation, which requires stringent measures to be taken to curb this menace that has infiltrated society.”

The bill was moved by parliamentary secretary Rana Mohammad Afzal on behalf of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan after Speaker Ayaz Sadiq turned down requests of opposition members to send it to the concerned committee.

Punishment for providing false information enhanced; police officers made responsible for preventing hate speech
Giving background, the speaker reminded the opposition members that the bill had originally been passed by the National Assembly in May last year, and was later approved by the Senate with some minor amendments.

Mr Sadiq ruled that since the bill had already been deliberated upon in the committee and the house, therefore, there was no need to refer it to the committee again.

Through the new law, the punishment for the offence of ‘deliberately using words to hurt the religious feelings of any person’ has been enhanced from yearlong imprisonment and unspecified fine to imprisonment extendable to three years and not less than one year, and/or fine of Rs500,000.

The amendment prescribes the same punishment for inciting religious, sectarian or ethnic hatred by using loudspeaker, sound amplifier or any other device.

The new law has also amended various sections of the over 150-year-old Police Act 1861. One of the amendments to Section 23 of the Police Act, outlining duties of a police officer, has included prevention of sectarian and hate speeches and proliferation of hate material by any person, organised group, organisation or banned outfit in their basic duties.

The new law also suggests enhanced punishments for “officers guilty of any violation of duty, willful breach or neglect of any rule, regulation or lawful order made by a competent authority” increasing it from confiscation of three-month salary or imprisonment not exceeding three months to imprisonment of up to three years with Rs100,000 fine.

Under the new law, every person opposing or not obeying the lawful orders of superiors or violating the conditions of any license granted by a district superintendent or assistant district superintendent of police for the use of music or for the conduct of assemblies and processions will now have to face imprisonment for up to three years with fine, under an amendment to Section 32 of the Police Act.

Previously, the sentence for the offence was a fine not exceeding Rs200.

False information
Through an amendment to Section 182 of the PPC, the punishment for ‘giving false information to a government servant that causes him to use his lawful powers to injury’ has been increased from a maximum of six months to up to seven years in case the offence about which information has been given is punishable with death and five years in case it is punishable with life imprisonment.

Forced marriages
The new law has also suggested punishment for cases of forced marriages of minor girls or women, belonging to minority groups.

The existing section 498-B of the PPC reads: “Whoever coerces or in any manner whatsoever compels a woman to enter into marriage shall be punished with imprisonment of description for a term which may not be less than three years and shall also be liable to a fine of Rs500,000”.

In the amendment, a proviso has been added to provide for a sentence of up to 10 years and not less than five years and a fine of up to Rs1 million in the case of a girl child as defined in the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1992, or a non-Muslim woman.

A new clause has been inserted in the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, defining the term “lynching” and suggesting punishment for it.

The new clause reads: “Whenever any individuals, an organised group or a mob by taking the law in own hands inflict punishment on a person accused or suspected of a crime by causing him a hurt or his death, every such individual, a member of such group or a mob is said to commit lynching.”

Also on Monday, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution expressing solidarity with the people of Indian-held Kashmir and condemning Indian brutality in the valley.

The members of the opposition PPP also staged a walkout to protest the attack on a party rally in Bahawalnagar earlier in the day.

Source: Dawn February 7th, 2017