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Debate on blasphemy law in Senate body takes new turn

ISLAMABAD: The debate in a parliamentary committee on the blasphemy law took a new turn when its members decided to carry forward the deliberations in the light of a 24-year-old Senate report.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP said in 1992 the then Senate Committee on Law and Justice made recommendations to improve on the procedural aspects of the blasphemy law.

“Unfortunately, the report was confined to the archives for unknown reasons and remained untraceable for a long time,” Senator Babar told the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights when it met to discuss and amend the procedural aspects of the blasphemy law on Friday.

The committee decided to consult the report after Senator Babar highlighted the details of the document and recommended that it should be made the starting reference point for suggesting ways and means to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Senator Babar said an amendment was introduced in the Senate on November 4, 1991, seeking the mandatory death penalty for blasphemy in place of the life imprisonment. The amendment was promptly referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice the same day.
Members agree to continue deliberations in light of Senate committee report that proposed improvement in procedural aspects of blasphemy law

He said the law and justice committee was then headed by Raja Zafarul Haq, the incumbent leader of the house in Senate, and included Yahya Bakhtiar, a former attorney general, among others.

In its report, the committee observed that there was a need for a more specific definition of the offence under Section 295 PPC (blasphemy) because in the words of the committee, “In its present form it was very generalised.”

According to the report, the committee also asked as to what punishment was given for blasphemy during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad and the four caliphs or afterwards and in other Muslim countries.

Raising these questions, the report, was however, silent on whether it approved or disapproved the proposed amendment to the law, he said.

Nonetheless, the functional committee, under MQM Senator Nasreen Jalil, accepted the proposal to make the 1992 report the base for guidance in further debate to make changes to the procedural aspects of the blasphemy law.

Talking to media later, the PPP senator said it was a mystery how and why the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991 was passed despite the fact that the relevant committee had sought clarifications and not approved it.

Senator Babar said the report of the committee remained untraceable for a long time until he was alerted about it by I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which was how he finally located the document.

He said a critical re-examination of Section 295-C was needed particularly because this provision also did not enjoy the unanimous support of Islamic scholars.

Giving the historical background, he said, “Federal Shariat Court (FSC) in October 1990 ruled on a petition that only the death sentence could be awarded for blasphemy. The sentence of life imprisonment for blasphemy was a violation of the injunctions of Islam. The FSC also directed to add a clause that any act of blasphemy of other prophets should also be punishable with death and that Section 295-C be amended by April 30, 1991. However, this was not done and should be investigated why it was ignored.”

He said even the petitioner had expressed apprehensions that in its present form the law could create ambiguity and legal complications, emphasising that the proof of intent was necessary to secure the conviction.

He also referred to a recent Supreme Court ruling that discussion on the blasphemy law and pointing out how to prevent its misuse was not blasphemy.

Chairman National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan proposed to include the aspect of repentance in the substantive law.

“Forgiveness was allowed by Prophet Muhammad to those who repented,” said Mr Chohan.

However, Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar was the only member to object and cautioned the committee to refrain from making amendments to the blasphemy law. “While the Prophet forgave, he also had many put to death,” he said, warning the committee not to touch the law.

Senator Mohammad Mohsin Khan Leghari believed that the blasphemy law was a technical issue. The procedural aspects needed amendments starting with the definition of the word blasphemy to prevent innocent people from becoming the victims.

Courtesy : Dawn News

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