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PAKISTAN’S SENATE COMMITTEE TO REVIEW MISUSE OF BLASPHEMY LAWS

A demonstration against blasphmey laws in Pakistan

Pakistani Christians see it an encouraging development in which Pakistani legislatures have decided to check the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country. On 16 August, Senate’s (upper house of the Parliament) Committee on Human Rights decided during a meeting in Islamabad to hold a series of meetings to discuss the issue with legal experts, religious scholars and other relevant bodies, including Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to review the procedures in this regard. Christian rights organisations have been demanding that until the government cannot repeal these laws, the misuse of the laws should be ensured.

The meeting of the Senate committee was chaired by the committee chairperson Senator Nasreen Jaleel, who belongs to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM, a progressive political party). She said that the meeting did not intend to seek amendments to the law, but the intention is to ensure fair implementation of the law as innocent people have suffered due to its misuse. MQM Senator Mohammad Ali Saif, said the blasphemy law had been misused more than any other law in the country. PPPP Senator Sehar Kamran believed the former Governor Salman Taseer’s murder was the prime example of misuse of these laws. It must be ensured that such heinous acts are never repeated. Pakistan Tehrik’s Insaf (PTI) Senator Samina Abid claimed that because of misuse of these laws, innocent people were punished nearly in 80 per cent blasphemy-related cases.

National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Justice (retired) Ali Nawaz Chohan submitted a report of the commission on the proposed amendments regarding procedural changes to check the misuse of the laws. He told the meeting that to ensure the effective implementation of section 156-A of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) investigation of blasphemy cases should be conducted by a Superintendent of Police-level official. Blasphemy cases be heard by a session’s judge rather than additional session’s judge only. The NCHR chairman said that complainant which registers fake blasphemy cases should be punished. Mr. Chohan also recommended that the law must be considerate towards a person who apologises for blaspheming or denies the charge. The Holy Prophet, he pointed out, had pardoned many. Therefore, the aspect of repentance should be kept in view. If someone denied having committed blasphemy, the element of apprehension should also be kept in mind, The News reported.

The prosecutorial discretion be exercised to ensure that only bona fide complaints of recognizable criminal conduct are registered and pursued, the chairman said. As a short-term, temporary measure, until wider reform of the blasphemy laws and measures to address the flaws in their implementation is accomplished, amend section 196 of the CrPC to ensure no court can take cognizance of any blasphemy-related offences, particularly under sections 295-B and 295-C of the PPC, without intervention from the provincial or federal governments.

Sections 295-B and C of Pakistan Penal Code of blasphemy laws prescribe harsh punishments for the desecration of the Holy Quran or insulting the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), have often been used as justification for mob justice, mainly against Christians and other religious minority communities.

The Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, Nadeem Ashraf, told the committee that there was an air of fear, and no lawyer was ready to defend an accused under the law and even judges feared on taking up such cases.

Majority of committee members supported the proposal of review the misuse of the laws, while Jamaat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI-F, a religious political party) Senator Mufti Sattarullah said that there was no need to amend the blasphemy law, and suggested to send this law to the CII. However, PPPP Farhatullah Babar said he had reservations over the CII and hence did not wish to have guidelines from this platform on the subject, which always added to temperature instead of showing a ray of light. According to the Pakistani media, the ruling PML-N’s Senator Nisar Muhammad cautioned that blasphemy law was not an ordinary legislation and there was a need to deal with the matter with utmost care. He proposed having consultations with religious scholars as well as looking into such laws in other Islamic countries.

In its latest report, released on 10 August, on International Religious Freedom, the United States has criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to the report, more than 40 people remain on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan.

– Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor of the Minority Concern of Pakistan magazine and former National Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan.

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