HRCP condemns ‘govt u-turn’ on anti-forced conversions bill

Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act, 2021, has been scrutinized intensely by religious figures as ‘un-Islamic’ since its introduction in August

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Thursday expressed support for religious minorities after the government squashed the anti-forced conversion bill during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions a day ago.

The HRCP said that the government had taken a ‘u-turn’ on enforcing the anti-forced conversions bill. The rights organization pressed that the government must secure religious minorities through effective legislation and create space for them to freely practice their own faith by enforcing the 2014 Tasadduq Jillani judgement.

The HRCP had referenced a landmark judgement by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani in 2014 that suggested measures to ensure religious tolerance in Pakistan.

Jillani headed a three-member bench that recommended the federal government make a taskforce to develop policies to foster religious harmony. Amongst other steps, Jillani called for the formation of a national council for minorities, which would be tasked with protecting the rights of religious minorities in the country.

On Wednesday during a parliamentary meeting, Federal Religious Affairs Minister Noor ul Haq Qadri said the time wasn’t ripe for an anti-forced conversions bill. Qadri said the law would leave religious minorities even more vulnerable.

Also present at the meeting, the Parliamentary Affairs State Minister Ali Muhammad Khan said that the grave issue of forced conversions was already under the prime minister’s purview. Khan added that the anti-forced conversions bill was being opposed as anti-Islam. He told the committee that Law Minister Farogh Naseem said to him that legislating on the matter could be ‘dangerous’.

The state minister further said that Naseem told him that ministries come and go but one should not go against Islam. Another committee member, Maulvi Faiz Ahmed, echoed Khan’s comments and said the bill went against Islam.

Not everyone opposed the bill as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI’s) Lal Chand Mahi said that ministers who spoke before him seemed to reject that Pakistan had a forced conversions problem. Mahi said that religious minorities were being pushed to the corner with the bill’s rejection.

A draft of the ‘Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act, 2021’ was introduced by the Human Rights Ministry in August and has since been marred with resistance and controversy. At a Religious Affairs Ministry meeting in August, clerics rejected the bill and called it ‘un-Islamic’. They specifically raised issues about the minimum age condition of 18 years for conversion.

In September, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) held a meeting with several notables to discuss the proposed bill. Among them was Mian Abdul Haq aka Mian Mithoo, a controversial figure whose involvement has often been alleged in forced conversions.

Several in Pakistan pointed out the irony of including a figure like Mithoo, while discussing a bill against forced conversions. In a Facebook post that detailed the event, however, the CII recognized Haq was a controversial figure and deemed it important to have a discussion with him head on in the meeting.