KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly’s secretariat has asked the provincial police chief and the home department to take ‘necessary measures’ to safeguard 13 lawmakers, including three ministers, and a bureaucrat who had been part of the legislation against forcible religious conversions, it emerged on Saturday.

Last month, the Sindh Assembly had unanimously adopted a private bill — The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2015 — making forced religious conversion a punishable criminal act, which also forbids minors from changing their religion.

The special branch of the Sindh police issued a threat alert stating that after the passage of the said bill the situation was quite tense and there was a threat to the life of MPAs, particularly the members of the standing committee on minorities’ affairs who considered the private bill.

Special branch of Sindh police warns of threat to members of the standing committee on minorities’ affairs

The special branch warned that “religious parties and defunct organisations” could “harm” the members of the standing committee concerned.

On Friday, the assembly secretariat sent a letter to the Sindh police chief and the additional chief secretary (home) about the threat alert asking the authorities to take measures keeping in view the threat perception for protection of the 14 individuals.

The provincial lawmakers who formed the standing committee and whose lives are said to be in danger are: Poonj Bheel, chairman of the standing committee, Shazia Jawaid, Bilquis Mukhtar, Mahesh Kumar Malani, Arif Masih Bhatti, Nand Kumar Goklani, Shamim Mumtaz [minister for social welfare], Diwan Chand Chawla, Khatumal Jeewan, Waqar Hussain Shah, Lal Chand Ukrani, two ex-officio members Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, parliamentary affairs minister, and Gyanchand Israni, minorities affairs minister, and A.B. Narejo, minorities affairs secretary.

The special branch also warned that the Chief Minister House or the Sindh Assembly building might be besieged by certain organisations “if this bill may not be abolished by the Sindh government”.

Civil society, including the minorities’ rights organisations, celebrated the bill while religious parties termed it an ‘anti-Islam’ law.

Almost all mainstream religious parties and groups as well as some banned extremist outfits have rejected the legislation and senior politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman has warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the provincial government did not amend the ‘controversial clauses’ of the law.

Major objection

The condition for being at least 18 years of age for an individual intending to convert is the chief objection for the religious parties.

It appears that the religious parties’ threat forced the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party to consider revisiting the law.

Senior Minister Khuhro, however, rejected the religious parties’ view that the law was against the spirit of Islam, but said that the assembly could revisit the “controversial sections, if any” in the bill.

The bill has been sent to the governor for his assent. The provincial lawmakers can revisit or amend the bill if it is passed or rejected within three months by the governor.

Almost all the parties in the Sindh Assembly, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and PML-Functional had supported the law.

The mainstream religious parties have no representation in the 168-strong provincial legislature.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2016