The Punjab Tahaffuz Bunyad-e-Islam Bill 2020 has kicked up quite a storm not only on social media but also within political and religious groups, and rightly so – many are questioning what the bill means for religious freedom and censorship. The bill still hasn’t been made law yet, but it is still important to know what it entails.
The bill was passed by the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday, 22 July. The bill states that it will extend to the whole of Punjab and that “it shall come into force at once”. If the bill, which aims to prevent publishing of ‘objectionable material in books in the Province of Punjab’, becomes law, the Director General, Public Relations of the government (DGRP) will be able to ‘visit and inspect the premises of the printing presses, offices of the publication houses, book stores and confiscate any book whether before or after publishing’
The bill includes restrictions placed on publishing not only of blasphemous material but also pictures of suicide bombers, terrorists, bodies of victims of terrorist activities and statements. According to the Union of Catholic Asian news, many church leaders have alleged that blasphemy laws are used unjustly to persecute non-Muslims, especially Christians within Pakistan, which is why the bill has raised alarm within religious minority communities.
In a situation where the clauses of the bill are violated, an individual may be sentenced to 5 years in jail or be given a fine of Rs 500,000.
Pervaiz Ellahi, the Punjab Assembly speaker, is the key player behind the bill and while many politicians are worried that such a law could polarise Islamic sects against each other, especially with the month of Muharram coming up, Ellahi has stated that the legislation will bring harmony between different religious groups.
The Majlis-e-Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM) leadership, a Pakistani Shiite political organisation, has completely rejected the bill and expressed grave reservations. A press conference of the MWM leadership stated that the bill was passed when the House wasn’t even able to meet the quorum and most of the members didn’t even show up at a session when the Punjab Tahaffuz Bunyad-e-Islam Bill was being debated. Allama Nasir Abbas Jaffary, the Central Secretary General of MWM Pakistan, on Sunday stated that the bill was against the Constitution of Pakistan and fundamental human rights, in an interview with The News.
On Monday, 27th July, Punjab Governor Ch Sarwar said the bill is very sensitive and will only become an act only after consensus is developed over it.