By: Farahnaz Ispahani
Pakistan has become a brutal place to live, especially if you are a member of a religious minority. Most observers agree that the country is being swept by a rising tide of hate encouraged by unbridled hate speech. Hate speech is defined as any spoken or physical action that negatively targets a person or group of people based on their ethnicity, gender or religion.
Several countries have dealt with hate by introducing laws that enhance penalties for crimes if they are motivated by racial, gender or religious hatred. Pakistan, too, needs to implement laws that discourage the whipping up of hateful religious sentiments. While researching a private members bill to be introduced in the National Assembly of Pakistan on hate crimes and hate speech, I noticed that the issue of preventing incitement had been addressed by several articles of the Pakistan Penal Code, which dates back to 1860. The adhoc introduction of ostensibly religion-based ordinances by dictators has significantly altered Pakistan’s legal edifice, adding parallel ‘Islamic’ provisions to the pre-partition criminal justice system. In some cases, the new superstructure has weakened the foundations of a more tolerant and pluralist society that could be ensured under the original scheme of things.
The Pakistan Penal Code is fairly rigorous on the subject of hate crimes of all kind. However, we have two serious and pressing issues. Firstly, contradictory laws like the blasphemy laws challenge the ability to prosecute under the Pakistan Penal Code and secondly, over the decades, we have seen less and less implementation of the Penal Code as in the protection of rights of our minority citizens.
Article 153-A of the Penal Code prescribes punishments for promoting “enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”. If implemented effectively, it could be the basis for prosecuting extremists who encourage religious hatred, particularly those whose ‘malicious intent’ is clear.