Pakistani Court Annuls Law on Islamic Overseers

Archdiocese Praises Court Decision

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LAHORE, Pakistan, SEPT. 7, 2005 ( An archbishop applauded a decision by the Pakistani Supreme Court to strike down a law that called for a sort of religious ombudsman to monitor citizens’ adherence to Islamic values.

«We heartily welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the Hasba Bill, a law against the freedom of the people,» said Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.

«This type of law goes against human nature and should always be condemned,» he added in public statements Tuesday to AsiaNews.

On Aug. 4, the nine members of the court issued a judgment which nullified the law. The law had been approved July 14 by the government of the North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan.

The annulled measure had established the figure of the «mohtasib,» who would oversee citizens’ adherence to Islamic values.


«In the detailed judgment, it is clearly written that no law can be allowed to interfere with the private life, personal thoughts and the individual beliefs of citizens,» said Archbishop Saldanha.

«Islamic jurists are unanimous on the point that except for ‘salat’ — prayer — and ‘zakat’ — alms — no other religious obligation stipulated by Islam can be enforced by the state,» he added.

The jurists defined the law as «discriminatory» and «unconstitutional,» given that it allowed for the institution of an ombudsman «who interferes in the life of citizens» and that it foresaw «the setting up of judicial and executive offices on a par with those of the government.»

The provision was put in place at the insistence of the Muttehida Majlas-e-Amal (MMA), the coalition in government made up of six Islamic parties. Its representatives had defined the enforcement of the law as a «great victory, the first historic step toward a true application of Islamic law in accordance with democratic norms.»

The Supreme Court was called into the case by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after protests by several political and religious groups.

Shahbaz Bhatti, president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, told AsiaNews that the court’s decision «was a good one, and it shows that the policies promoted by the MMA go against the democratic norms of the Constitution of Pakistan.»

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