Since 1999 Pakistan has led the way in the UN Human Rights Commission (now Council) in pushing through resolutions "Combating Defamation of Religions". The latest version, narrowly adopted by the Council in March, makes it clear that it is principally Islam that the resolution seeks to protect. The resolution is however flawed in that "defamation" is not defined, and the resolution runs counter to international law particularly with regard to freedom of expression. It is unclear, for example, whether criticism of human rights abuse carried out in the name of Islam would be permitted.

Now, a bill has been introduced in the Pakistan parliament that would impose the death penalty on apostates from Islam. Should this bill, which is in clear contavention of fredom of religiopn or belief, be passed - and so far the government have not opposed it - then Pakistan would be in breach of its undertaking as a member of the Human Rights Council to uphold those international human rights norms to which it is a signatory.

We wonder at what point the Human Rights Council will say enough is enough? With the Islamic states and their fellow-travelers, the so-called "like-minded" group (including China and Cuba), having an absolute majority in the Council, the signs are not good.

Pleae give this abysmal action by the Pakistani parliament the widest possible coverage.

Roy Brown

New apostasy bill to impose death on anyone who leaves Islam

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - A draft bill adopted in first reading by Pakistan's National Assembly is now before a standing committee. Tabled by a six-party politico-religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal or MMA, the Apostasy Act 2006 which the government sent to the committee would impose the death penalty on Muslim men and life in prison on Muslim women in case they leave Islam. It would also force them to forfeit their property and lose legal custody of children.

During the same session, lawmakers rejected another draft bill moved by minority MNA Bhandara which sought to amend the existing blasphemy law.

"This situation is unfortunate and sad. We demand freedom of conscious, religion and expression in Pakistan, and this bill is contrary to the principle of freedom of choice", said Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, head of National Commission for Justice and Peace and chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference.

"Because international human rights charters give every individual the right to change his or her religion according to his or her conscience, we hope and pray that this bill will not be passed," Mgr Saldanha said.

Should the bill become law anyone who leaves Islam for another religion can be sentenced to death (if male) or life in prison 'until repentance occurs' (if female).

Section 4 of the bill says that the offender's own confession in court or the testimony by at least two adults is sufficient grounds for conviction in apostasy cases. Testimony by non Muslims is not however admissible in certain Pakistani courts.

Section 5 stipulates that the 'offender' must be granted 3 to 30 days to recant the conversion and return to Islam. But even in cases where the person returns to Islam judges can impose two-year sentences as punishment for the original 'crime'. The accused can convert and reconvert up to three times before the death sentence becomes automatic.

Under Section 8 apostates forfeit all their properties which are awarded only to their Muslim relatives. Section 9 says that they also lose custody to any minor in their care and guardianship, including their biological children.