President Alvi did not pass an “Anti Shia” Bill
Claim: Before the parliament’s dissolution, President Arif Alvi approved an anti-Shia bill without consulting any religious schools of thought.
Fact: President Arif Alvi returned the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023
On 16 August 2023, a Twitter user claimed that the president had given his assent for an “anti-Shia” bill, and the community had come out on the streets in protest. In August, several social media posts claimed that an anti-Shia bill had been passed and is now being implemented nationwide.
Some claimed that this bill criminalises the recitation of Ziarat-e-Ashura, and some claimed that it includes making offensive comments about the companions of the Prophet into the parameters of the Blasphemy Law. Other claims even state that although one such bill has been returned, the other has been passed.
Fact or Fiction?
On 21 August 2023, Express Tribune published an article headlined, “President objects to CrPC amendment bill.” However, it was not clear whether it was the same bill being referred to on social media or a different one.
On 7 August 2023, the Senate passed a bill called the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act which sought to amend the Code of Criminal Procedures (CrPC) and the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The amendments proposed in this bill were relevant to section 298A of the PPC and Schedule II, Act V of the CrPC. This bill sought to replace a three-year prison sentence with life imprisonment or at least ten years of imprisonment for blasphemy. Additionally, this bill sought to make the offense non-bailable. The bill was passed by the National Assembly on 17 January 2023 and by the Senate on 7 August 2023. A copy of the bill is attached below:
Some excerpts have been reproduced from the Statement of Objects and Reasons in the Bill:
“The fact may be observed that disrespecting to the Companion of Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) and other sacred personalities not only promotes the terrorism and disruption in the country but it also hurts the people from all walks of life… In section 298-A of Pakistan Penal Code, the punishment against the person who disrespects the wives, family and Companions of Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H), imprisonment of with minimum three years period alongwith a nominal penalty while this is a bailable crime. Due to this simple punishment the people try of their own to punish the criminals which increase the violence.”
“A person who make critic a religious manifestations and religious leader shall be punishable for imprisonment liable to ten years, while punishment for disrespecting of Ummahat-ul-Momineen, Ahle Bait, Khulfa-e-Rashideen and Sahaba-e-Kiram is tantamount to nil in section 298-A of Pakistan Penal Code.”
Soch Fact Check also spoke to Waqas Ahmed, who wrote the Express Tribune article. He said he had looked at the last three months of record in the National Assembly Secretariat as well as the Senate Secretariat, and he found no evidence suggesting that this bill had been passed; instead, he shared a copy of the document, which proves that the president returned it.
On 9 August 2023, the president had already sent the bill back with his objections. The objections note that the police force can not be trusted with such a dramatic increase in power to make the offence non-bailable and further notes that if the bill becomes law, it will take away from the people of Pakistan some essential rights enshrined in the 1973 Constitution. These include Article 8(2), 9,10, 10-A and 4(1) which pertain to the inviolability of dignity of man, the right to fair trial, safeguards as to arrest and detention, security of person, and that the state may not make a law that takes away an existing constitutional right from the people of Pakistan. A copy of the president’s response has been attached below:
Constitutionally, this means the bill is null and void in the current circumstances because the parliament has been dissolved, and it can not be voted again and passed by both houses, which would be necessary to consider its implementation.
Was there another anti-Shia bill?
Soch Fact Check traced Ahmed’s steps and thoroughly reviewed the Senate and National Assembly repositories, which log every bill that is passed by either of the two houses on their official websites, and did not find any other relevant bills.
We did not find any other bill that asks for similar amendments to be made to existing laws and have been passed by both houses as to require the president’s assent. The last three CrPC amendments passed by the Senate were passed on 27 December 2021, 7 February 2022, and 23 May 2022. Neither of these dates or bills fall into the category that is represented in the claims.
On the National Assembly website, we found the most recent amendment to the CrPC, passed by the National Assembly, on 27 July 2023 never made it to the Senate, so this means there is no question of it having been rejected or accepted by the president. A screenshot of this amendment was also found circulating on social media platforms.
These clips show a heated sectarian debate between the two sides – Shia and Sunni Muslims, without any confirmation on whether this bill has been passed by both houses and has the president’s assent leading to its implementation.
Conclusion: President Arif Alvi did not assent to a bill which amends the CrPC and the PPC as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2023.
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