LAHORE: The Punjab government is likely to allow the use of four loudspeakers, instead of the existing one, at the places of worship, mainly mosques, while accepting the plea that the number does not matter when it comes to misusing the gadget.

The move is believed to be another attempt by the Punjab government to appease the religious circles annoyed after an amendment to the Election Reforms Act that changed the wording of the oath of the elected parliamentarians, and related statements attributed to Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan afterwards.

“The Punjab government is feeling the heat of the uproar by the religious circles after the amendment in the law by the parliament. And is, therefore, trying to establish through different steps that it had nothing to do with it, or it does respect religious sentiments of the people,” said an insider.

The increased number of loudspeakers is being allowed by amending The Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Act that was introduced in 2015 to disallow the installation of more than one sound enhancing gadget at a place of worship. It was one of the five or so laws the provincial government had enacted under the National Action Plan (NAP) made after the Peshawar Army Public School terrorist attack.

The purpose of this law was “to prevent public nuisance and the voicing of utterances of controversial nature likely to cause public disorder, to regulate, control and prohibit the use of certain sound systems in the province in the interest of environment, public order, decency, and to guard against incitement to terrorism or the commission of any offence.”

One of the laws provides for one external sound system at a place of worship (only) for the purpose of Azan, Arabic Khutba delivered on Friday or Eid prayers, announcement of death of a person, besides lost or found (a thing or a person) announcements.

Officials said that now the government was going to amend the law to provide for installation of up to four external sound systems (loudspeakers) at a place of worship again “only for calling Azan or delivering Arabic sermon for Juma and Eid prayers, announcement of the death of a person, lost or found a thing or person”.

They said the government had from the day one ensured strict enforcement of the law despite objections from religious circles.

A committee was also constituted under the Minister of State for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat to assess this and other laws.

Now, the officials said, the government had accepted the point of view that the real objective was to check use of loudspeakers for any mischief, which could be committed with just one loudspeaker, if one intended to. Some quoted Ahadith [sayings of the Prophet (PBUH)] to demand that Azan should be called in all the four directions, which was not possible with one loudspeaker.

Another plea was that the restriction to use just one loudspeaker at worship place was limited only to Punjab, which smacks of discrimination.

The government, according to this view, could also prevent hate speech or incitement to sectarian rift through provisions in the PPC or Anti-terrorism Act.

“We are allowing up to four loudspeakers but they could be used only for the purposes already declared in the law,” said a senior official of the home department.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018

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