LAHORE: 22 of a total of 38 women booked under the blasphemy laws are Muslims, data obtained from different organisations by The Express Tribune reveals.
The data also shows that 14 out of the 38 women booked under the blasphemy laws were Christian. A Hindu and an Ahamdi were also among those accused of blasphemy.
Dr Mehdi Hasan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) chairperson, said that around 80 per cent of those accused of blasphemy were falsely implicated. “Many people get a blasphemy case registered against their opponents because of property issues or other personal or family vendetta,” said Hasan.
Syed Mumtaz Alam Gilani, the federal minister for human rights, said that more and more Muslims were using the laws to settle scores with fellow Muslims. “Currently, there are around 42 cases in which Muslims have registered FIRs against Muslims,” the minister said. Gilani also said that a parliamentary committee was trying to come up with proposals to ensure that the laws are not misused.
Records of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Ministry of Human Rights, also show that 37 of these women were booked between 1990 and 2010 while only one case was registered in 1987.
33 women of the 38 are from the Punjab.
Cases against six were registered in Lahore, five in Sheikhupura, four in Kasur, two in Rawalpindi and two in Gujranwala.
According to the record available, a Mrs Krishna was the only one to have been booked from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Akhtari Begum and Tabassum Malkana from Sindh and a Zaibun Nisa from Islamabad. The location of one Bushra Taseer booked under 295-C in 1996 was not clear from the records.
Nazia, Zaibun Nisa, Nasreen Bibi and Naseem Bibi were acquitted.
There have been at least two cases, in which mentally-challenged women were also booked for blasphemy.
Zaibun Nisa, a mentally-challenged Muslim accused, was released after 14 years in prison. The Lahore High Court acquitted the 60-year-old on July 22, 2010.
In another case, Naseem Bibi, another mentally challenged person, was acquitted after eight months of being accused of blasphemy.
Acquitted not compensated
A case was registered against Nazia in June 2009 under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code in Kharian. Nazia, a Christian, always maintained that she did not desecrate the Quran, as was alleged. Soon after the registration of a case against her, she was socially boycotted and had to live alone for six months. The issue was resolved by local elders who found her ‘innocent’. Following that finding the case was dropped. “I hadn’t done anything of the kind and I was happy when the case was dropped. But the time as a person accused of blasphemy was the most difficult one,” she says.
Nasreen Bibi of Kabirwala was convicted and awarded life imprisonment but her conviction was later over turned by the Supreme Court.
However, none of the women acquitted filed for damages.
Peter Jacob, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Church secretary, said that the women did not file defamation or damages suits against complainants because “they do not want the social pressure”. On how to ensure that the laws are not used to settle personal scores, Jacob added, “There should be a penalty for the complainant if his accusations cannot be proven in court. But this is just a safeguard. These laws have many weaknesses.” The secretary said that amendments proposed by Sherry Rehman to the bill that she has recently submitted in the National Assembly were a step in the right direction.
The bill proposes amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, the two main sources of criminal law, calls for a clearer definition of the term ‘blasphemy’. The bill also calls for rationalising the criminal procedure, which includes the concept of premeditation or intent.
One of the most important changes the bill proposes is that it calls for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty.
Another amendment proposed proposes that the complainant take full responsibility if the accusations levelled by him are proven to be false.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2010.