ISLAMABAD: Amid strong opposition by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, (JUI-F), the Senate human rights committee has recommended that anyone falsely accusing a person of blasphemy should be awarded a similar punishment prescribed for a convict of blasphemy.
“It is also recommended that anyone accusing somebody of blasphemy should come up with two witnesses to corroborate his claim,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar on Tuesday while reading out recommendations of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights.
The committee meeting, chaired by Senator Nasreen Jalil, was attended by Baber, Mufti Abdul Sattar, Mohsin Laghari and Mir Kabir Ahmed Muhammad Shahi, besides officials of Punjab police and representative of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and ministries of Human Rights and Law and Justice.
However, Senator Sattar, who belongs to the JUI-F, strongly opposed the recommendations and called them an attempt to change the blasphemy laws to ‘please the foreign masters’.
“This is tantamount to changing the blasphemy law and I know this is being done to make the masters happy as it is a conspiracy to remove the hurdles to blaspheming the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him),” Sattar said in a harsh tone. He demanded that the matter be just avoided for the ‘betterment’ of the country.
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However, Jalil as well as Laghari and Babar said there was no agenda behind such recommendations and they would only be approved after a go-ahead from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
According to the recommendations, any person who registers a false case under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code should be handed the same punishment as provided for the offenders of blasphemy under the same section. The CII itself also recommended the same punishment in its annual report of 2000-2001 and 2003-2004, it was claimed.
Section 295-C was added by an act of parliament in 1986 during Gen Zia’s regime, making the use of blasphemous remarks about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) a criminal offence punishable by death.
The committee recommended that a complainant lodging a complaint under the same section may be asked to present two witnesses in favour of his accusation, adding that the same was also recommended in the CII’s annual report of 1997-1998.
The JUI-F senator, however, said it was unacceptable that the same concerns were not expressed for other crimes where an accused often spent years languishing in jail while child abusers got acquitted.
“Why only law related to blasphemy is being improved,” he said, adding, however, that the recommendations should be forwarded to the CII.
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Jalil said there were no plans to change the law about blasphemy.
“Do you doubt our imaan [faith],” Senator Laghari asked Sattar who said he never did but would not let the amendment happen.
Babar said there was no change in the blasphemy law but those misusing the law must be held accountable as it had become a routine and such a case was reported every month, if not every week.
“Whatever, but reforms in the guise of fasad [mischief] is unacceptable,” the JUI-F senator stated.
To provide relief to death-row convicts on humanitarian grounds, the committee also recommended simplifying procedure for filing mercy petitions against death penalties to the president of Pakistan.
The committee also asked for forming an executive committee with representation of all stakeholders including the NCHR, Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Human Rights to see the complaints before sending those to the president.
It recommended that "the provincial government who forwarded the application on behalf of the sentenced person should clearly define the reasons on which the plea has been filed".
An NCHR official briefed the committee that the applications were prepared by police officials but the relevant documents including medical and judicial records to support the request were often not annexed, resulting in refusal of the plea.
According to the NCHR official, in case of rejection, the law gives the provision to file another plea within seven days on fresh grounds, and that the causes of refusal are usually not mentioned in the order, hence creating problems for the applicant.
Muhammad Shafiq, the NCHR member, said 27 cases of death penalty were still pending. Discussing the juvenile cases, the committee was informed that under the latest legislation, age of the child should be determined at the time of the filing of case to avoid any complication later.
The committee was informed that a new law had been passed by the National Assembly which would soon be tabled in the Senate. The committee also forwarded three recommendations to the CII for their comments on misuse of blasphemy law.
The committee also recommend that the cases of around 40 accused apprehended in Youhanabad Church incident in Lahore over the last three years should be transferred from the Anti-Terrorism Court to routine courts.