ISLAMABAD: The lynching of a student in Mardan by fellow students once again brought the blasphemy law to surface, with both houses of parliament calling for a “thoroughgoing review” of the legislation to stop its “misuse”.
Mashal Khan, 23, was killed by a vigilante mob consisting of hundreds of university students in the Abdul Wali Khan University premises by lynching for alleged blasphemy last week. The gory incident triggered a nationwide uproar.
The opposition demanded of the government to move a resolution in the National Assembly against the misuse of the blasphemy law and asked the government to amend the law by inserting clauses in the existing law to avoid its misuse.
The government has been struggling to meet quorum on a number of occasions and Monday’s proceedings were not an exception.
Lawmakers belonging to the PPPP pointed out the quorum soon after the lower house took up a few points of order, forcing the chair to suspend proceedings for around half an hour.
However, the proceedings had to adjourn till Tuesday due to lack of quorum. It was the third consecutive sitting which was adjourned due to the quorum issue during the ongoing session of the National Assembly.
Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah on a point of order said that Mashal Khan was murdered on the allegations of blasphemy. “Exploitation in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the biggest blasphemy,” he said.
“Since 1990, 65 people had been killed on the allegation of committing blasphemy and no one was executed for doing so,” he said.
Shah noted that the prime minister in his reaction to the murder had asked the nation to unite over the issue. He said the premier should have been here to give a statement on the floor of the house.
“I hope the government, if not today, would move a resolution tomorrow against the misuse of the blasphemy law. It [the resolution] would give a strong message on behalf parliament to those involved in misusing the blasphemy law,” he said.
PTI’s Dr Shireen Mazari on another point of order said entire dwellings were burnt to ashes over the allegations of blasphemy in the past. She said people fear to talk on the issue and innocent people were being murdered.
“Zahid Hamid Sahab (Minister for Law and Justice), please bring amendment to the law immediately, and mob violence and lynching should be ended.
“[A] strong resolution should be moved against the misuse of the law. Otherwise, the PTI would bring its resolution over the issue. Misuse of the law needs to be ended,” she said.
ANP’s Ghulam Bilour also hoped that criminals involved in the killing of Mashal were brought to justice.
Khursheed Shah, before staging a walkout over the issue of missing PPP loyalists, strongly criticised the government over electricity-related issues.
He said during the previous PPP regime, the shortfall of electricity was 4,100 megawatts which, according to him, stood at 5,000 megawatts today. “The government without doing audit paid Rs480 billion as circular debt that has again swelled to Rs380 billion despite increasing power tariffs by 40 to 50 per cent.”
The opposition leader said during the PPP’s regime per barrel price of oil was $110 while during the current government’s period it was between $40 and $45 per barrel.
Ghulam Bilour on a point of order said the plan of the interior minister to unblock CNICs did not match recommendations of the parliamentary committee which was formed over the matter.
Meanwhile, senators from both sides of the aisle felt the need to revisit laws on blasphemy in order to put a check on misuse of the legislation, as a visibly perturbed upper house discussed barbaric lynching of Mashal Khan.
They expressed concern over growing intolerance in the country and the egregious trend of mob justice taking roots in the country. Members of the upper house suggested that “amendments should be made in Section 295C and prescribe the same punishment to those who falsely implicate someone in blasphemy”.
Some senators referred to the recommendations made by a Senate standing committee on law and justice in 1992, when it endorsed amendments to the blasphemy law in light of the Federal Shariat Court judgment that recommended death penalty instead of life imprisonment in blasphemy cases.
Without going into details on the recommendations, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said the panel headed by the incumbent leader of House Raja Zafarul Haq had made some valuable suggestions which can serve as a starting point to improve the law. Many Senators including from the treasury benches endorsed him.
Senator Sirajul Haq, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, also joined hands with his fellow senators in condemning Mashal’s murder, whom some senators called a martyr.
According to him, no one is allowed to take law in his own hands, as this trend was not acceptable in any civilised society.
He said there was a general perception in the country that the state had never tried to implement the blasphemy laws.
“Implementation of law is the responsibility of the government and the state. People have lost trust in institutions. We need to restore that trust. If there is any lacuna in the law we should address it. Raja Zafar ul Haq led committee had worked a lot on it.”
These remarks came from the JI chief in response to veiled criticism from some senators on the stubborn stand taken by religious parties in the past, whenever the matter of amending the law came under discussion.
Senators lamented that the incident happened in the premises of a university – the highest seat of learning.
During the debate, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani remarked that trend of mob justice started during the rule of Gen Zia ul Haq.
Minister of State for Interior Baleeghur Rahman said there was clarity on the issue at the political level. He said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and heads of political parties had condemned the incident.
He agreed that there was a need to check intolerance and disclosed that work on a new curriculum was underway. He said in all 22 persons had so far been arrested which included six university employees.
The Senate also decided to take up growing water scarcity in the country in The Committee of the Whole House. The Senate chairman directed his secretariat to draft a motion in this regard tomorrow.
The decision was taken on a demand of senators from both sides of the divide followed by policy statement by the state minister for water and power on the alarming water situation in the country.
Abid Sher Ali agreed with the senators who were gravely concerned at the grave water situation. He seconded the statistics published by the UNDP in a report on the water crisis in Pakistan last year.
The minister said at the time of partition, Pakistan was a water abundant country, with 5,550 cubic meter per capita water availability. This has been reduced to around per capita 1000 cubic meters, way below the international standard of 17,000 cubic meters per person.
The Senate also passed two private member bills sponsored by a PTI lawmaker Azam Swati. Amending Section 272 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, it proposed enhancing fine from Rs3000 to Rs3 million and the earlier prescribed imprisonment of six months to five years in cases of selling noxious food and adulteration in drugs.
The other important bill changes the value of Diyat — the amount paid to heirs of a deceased in case of settlement of intentional or unintentional killing due to enmity or by accident under Islamic injunctions.
Earlier, senators greeted Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani by thumping desks when he entered the house following his Friday’s decision to abruptly adjourn the house for an indefinite period of time, protesting the government for not taking the proceedings of upper house seriously.