ISLAMABAD: To stop the abuse of the controversial blasphemy laws, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has recommended several amendments, but it is still opposed to their repeal.
The CII, Pakistan’s top constitutional advisory body on Islamic injunctions, made the recommendations on a reference sent by the federal government.
The Council has instead suggested certain procedural amendments to ensure that the laws are not misused against any individual irrespective of his religion. Capital punishment should be retained for offenders, the CCI maintained in its proposal.
The government faces vociferous criticism by world human rights bodies against the alleged misuse of the laws. Several domestic civil liberties associations have also opposed the laws on account of the inherent discrimination.
The United States and the United Kingdom consider the laws to be anti-Christian and have requested Islamabad for their repeal. However official record of cases registered under blasphemy laws in show that majority of the cases are against Muslims.
The CCI had asked the government to amend the laws after examining the grievances, according to a source in the federal ministry of law. These recommendations were sent to the government by the CII before the appointment of Maulana Sherani as its chief.
“The government should not allow anyone to misuse the blasphemy Law and it should take all appropriate measures whether administrative, procedural or legislative to stop incidents of mishandling the blasphemy Law,” the CII has written in its recommendations.
The CII has recommended a change in the procedure for the registration of cases under the blasphemy Laws. The police must investigate the complaint systematically before registering the case.
“It should be made obligatory for the complainant to produce concrete evidence to substantiate the charges while lodging a First Information Report with the police.
The accused persons must be given the right of defence through a legal adviser and a First Class magistrate should supervise the police investigations prior to the registration of the case,” according to the proposal.
Blasphemy cases should be tried by the High Courts, members of the CII have observed in the document.
A few members of the CII were of the view that a committee comprising leading scholars should be set up by the federal government to draw up its recommendations in consultation with political parties and stakeholders.
Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) cover the offence of blasphemy. Section 295 forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Section 295-A forbids outraging religious feelings, 295-B forbids defiling the Quran and 295-C forbids defaming Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh).
Except for 295-C of the CrPC), the provisions of section 295 require that an offence be a consequence of the intent of the accused. Defiling the Quran merits imprisonment for life. Defaming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) merits death with or without a fine. If a charge is filed under 295-C, the trial must take place in a Sessions Court presided by a Muslim judge.
The police and law enforcement agencies have charged 1,274 people with offences under the blasphemy laws from 1986 to 2010. Sixty per cent of the people charged were non-Muslims. Several of the accused were murdered according to media reports. No judicial execution of a person charged with blasphemy has occurred in Pakistan so far.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2010.