Christian activists welcome Pakistan's criminal law amendments to protect religious minorities

Christian activists have expressed their satisfaction with a new bill passed by the Pakistani National Assembly to amend some of the country's criminal laws and protect religious minorities from forced conversions and mass violence.

(REUTERS / Mohsin Raza)Pakistani Christians protest against Saturday's burning of their houses and belongings in Badami Bagh, Lahore March 10, 2013.

On Monday, the Parliament passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2016 which amends some of the criminal laws to in a bid to outlaw sectarianism, forced conversions, and mass lynching. The bill now awaits the president's approval for it to become an act of the parliament, the Vatican Radio details.

The passing of the new bill comes just a few days after the acquittal of 115 suspects in the 2013 torching of more than a hundred Christian homes in Joseph Colony. The court decision sparked anger among Catholic leaders who say that the verdict raised fears that the country is ignoring the people who cry out for justice, Crux reports.

Meanwhile, Christian activists welcomed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, highlighting its importance in outlawing mob violence in Pakistan.

"These measures were crucial to save our country," said Bright Future Society president Samuel Pyara, according to AsiaNews.  "Mob justice has become a part of people's mind-set. There was a great need to make it a punishable offence and we appreciate the government's action."

The new law increases the punishment for intentionally hurting religious sentiments from one year in jail and a fine to a three-year jail term and/or a fine amounting to Rs500,000 (roughly $4,769). The same punishment would be given for inciting religious, ethnic, or sectarian hatred.

In addition, giving false information to authorities which causes a person to use "lawful powers to injury" would entail increased punishment from previously six months to seven years if the wrong information resulted in a death sentence. If the case entails life imprisonment, the offender would be given a five-year jail sentence.

Moreover, the new law suggests a jail term of no less than three years and a fine of Rs500,000 for those who coerce a woman into marriage. A new clause added to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 also defines lynching and suggests punishment for taking the law into one's own hands.

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