Pakistan is set to introduce a new piece of legislation to stop the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country.
The government has finalised a draft bill, which will now be presented in parliament for approval, to combat the abuse of the existing laws.
The proposal, prepared by the interior ministry and vetted by the law ministry, aims to ensure that no one takes the law into their own hands, as only the state (police and courts) are responsible for punishing anyone found guilty.
According to officials, some harsh penalties have also been introduced against false accusations of blasphemy.
A senior official at the interior ministry told The Express Tribune that procedural loopholes in Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C, a criminal offence punishable with death, have been identified and some new clauses incorporated in the new draft.
The main reason for the new legislation is said to be the European countries’ concern over the rising tide of abuse of the blasphemy law.
The new law would make it necessary to prove mens rea (bad intention) behind an act to establish a crime, which Section 295-C does not meet currently. Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be considered intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offence.
An official said the law ministry had vetted the draft keeping in view four principles with the top most being that no clause should contradict the constitution itself. Another one relates to the judgments of different courts.
The official said that as per a Federal Shariat Court judgment of 1990 “bad intention” was a necessary element to establish any offence under Section 295-C.
In a recent report on the state of human rights, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had pointed out that abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens.
Around 14 individuals are on the death row while 19 others are serving life sentences on charges of committing blasphemy. The sheer number of cases registered in the past 25 years suggests the law has been widely abused. Investigations have revealed that often the reasons for the abuse stem from personal enmity, property disputes and religious hatred.
The latest example being the Kot Radha Kishan incident, when a mob burnt a Christian couple alive in a brick kiln in Punjab on accusation of sacrilege, which was later proved false.
According to a report by the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, 52 people have been murdered in extrajudicial cases since 1990.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2015.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ