The thin red line: The blasphemy law and concept of defamation

Published: January 6, 2011
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Mere allegation or accusation does not warrant any action on the part of the prosecuting agency.

Mere allegation or accusation does not warrant any action on the part of the prosecuting agency.

KARACHI: When it comes to blasphemy, the burden of proof lies on the person who registers the case. But if the accusation is proven false, the complainant stands liable for damages and a defamation suit can be filed against them.

However, this is one of the many laws that are flouted. This opinion was shared by three lawyers who are considered scholars of Islamic law, including a former judge of the Federal Shariat Court Justice (retd) Shafi Mohammedi.

Justice Mohammedi held that the police should collect sufficient, believable and strong evidence which can stand up in a court of law. Mere allegation or accusation, he told The Express Tribune, does not warrant any action on the part of the prosecuting agency. The police, he believes, take advantage of these situations and exploit both sides by taking bribes.

First we must understand the difference between an act of blasphemy and an unbecoming attitude, urged the retired judge. Blasphemy is a specific act and can be against any prophet according to the Islamic concept. This difference must be clearly understood otherwise scores of actions could be deemed blasphemous.

Justice (retd) Mohammedi recommended extreme caution in registering a blasphemy case. He pointed out a judgment in a court of Andhra Pradesh, India, where the court held that if there are four witnesses to an alleged Zina, then the accused shall be prosecuted. And if the number of witnesses is less than four then the complainant as well as his witnesses shall be tried for Qazaf (false accusation and unreliable evidence). The punishment for registering a false or concocted case under section 182 of the Criminal Procedure Code is only six months or a fine of Rs1,000.

Muhammad Farooq advocate, a lawyer practicing on the criminal side, told The Express Tribune defamation law has yet to be developed in Pakistan as most of the false allegations come from the police, and once a person is rescued from their clutches, he prefers to remain silent instead of filing a defamation and libel suit, said Farooq.

Islam gives credence to the will and intention of a person. According to Justice (retd) Mohammedi, the ‘blasphemy’ incident in Hyderabad involving a doctor does not fall in the sphere of blasphemy. He said that every day we trample newspapers and other printed material which carries part of the name of those we consider holy, but no one is prosecuted.

While speaking to The Express Tribune, lawyer Shoua-un-Nabi also said that the blasphemy law is not limited to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but also extends to any messenger of Allah. He added, however, that there is a procedure for lodging a complaint, and, besides the complainant, two witnesses of ‘strong’ reputation are mandatory to support a blasphemy allegation. The requirement of mandatory witnesses is there so no one is trapped by an ill-motivated person, he said.

Lawyer Shamsuddin Khalid Ansari commented on the Hyderabad matter, saying it was a matter of discourtesy and nothing more. The current incidents, the lawyer said, are blown out of proportion to downplay the actual violation of Sharia laws. He spoke of Justice Cornelius who said in one of his speeches that the deterrence provided by punishment under Islamic injunctions is a blessing for society. Ansari noted an American law which gives capital punishment to anyone proven to have blasphemed against prophet Hazrat Issa (AS).

Ansari believes that utmost care should be taken when such an allegation is made, and, before a case is registered, the person accused should be given every opportunity to clear their name. In an Islamic system, Ansari said, the complainant and the accused are to be treated equally. If a complainant believes that another person has blasphemed, reputable ulema must be consulted to consider if the act falls within the ambit of blasphemy.

All three Islamic jurisprudence scholars agreed that instigating a false action was strictly forbidden in Islam. They stressed that only the state machinery is permitted an appropriate action against a blasphemer. Under no circumstances, the three said, should a mob decide the fate of an accused blasphemer.

According to the available statistics, in Pakistan 1,274 people have been charged with offences under the blasphemy laws from 1986 to 2010 with none of them tried to the end or convicted, warranting the framing of a comprehensive law to protect the rights of a complainant and accused equally.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • salim bawany
    Jan 6, 2011 - 10:01AM

    the lack of condemnation & the shameful celebration & applause for this brutal,cold blooded murder is an indictment of our society’s mentality.the tv anchors,newscasters & newsreporters are all justifying this murder by saying ST shouldn’t have said what he said.
    the sane,rational ppl in pakistan have got no platform or outlet left.the best that can be done is to share by email,facebook,retweets & any & every other way blogs,articles,newsreports that show the way,that oppose our society being held hostage by these murderous barbarians.
    The following links are a sampling of some good articles on this issue,check them out by clicking on the links below:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/05/salman-taseer-murder-pakistan
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/05/pakistan-salman-taseer-liberal
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2040792,00.html
    http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/05/salmaantaseerlastmanstanding

    share such articles as much as possible,so that the pakistani ppl can have exposure to saner thoughts.Recommend

  • sikandar
    Jan 6, 2011 - 1:44PM

    Funny laws and Funny country.Recommend

  • AD
    Jan 6, 2011 - 5:42PM

    Don’t kill innocent in the name of God.He never said “those who do not believe me kill them”? He is the master of universe don’t make him angry.Recommend

  • Jawad
    Jan 6, 2011 - 7:00PM

    Very well written and correctly highlighted the way a case like this should have been taken care of. I would like to paste the line from the article here for reference “Under no circumstances, the three said, should a mob decide the fate of an accused blasphemer.”

    Very well doneRecommend

  • Asim
    Jan 6, 2011 - 8:23PM

    Good points and all based on common senseRecommend

  • T R Khan
    Jan 6, 2011 - 8:46PM

    Blasphemy law should be extended to cover religious leaders of all shades including Baba Guru Nanak and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.Recommend

  • Wowem
    Jan 6, 2011 - 9:46PM

    Just to point out that any law against blasphemy would be against the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution and thus illegal. In 1868 the Bill of Rights was extended to apply to ALL states and thus any state laws against blasphemy became irrelevant. The latest case where the State of Pennsylvania did not permit a film producer to call his company ‘I choose Hell’ was won by the plaintiff and provides a sole example where a state authority tried at least to enforce against their idea of blasphemy. Thankfully the U.S constitution provided the judge enough grounds to write a 68 page judgment against the state. Lawyer Ansari’s points are well made and clear, but he may kindly note that his reference to a U,S law against blaspheming Jesus is incorrect.Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmed
    Jan 6, 2011 - 11:41PM

    @ T R KHAN… NO!

    Blasphemy relates to PROPHETS. Was Guru Nanak a Prophet? I dont have any evidence of it.

    Mirza Ghulam Ahmed? hehe are you kidding me? He aint even a Muslim… hez the biggest blasphemor himself… We, the people of Pakistan, the Parliament, the Muslim world’s scholars have termed Ahmadis non-Muslims… Simple.Recommend

  • gunjan
    Jan 7, 2011 - 3:31AM

    Nobody discusses jobs, economy, poverty, etc in Pakistan. Everyone talks about Mohammad, blasphemy, and other religious issues.

    Why can’t this whole nation think straight?Recommend

  • bvindh
    Jan 7, 2011 - 8:26AM

    @Zeeshan Mujahid,
    why should there be a redline to start with? just because some one criticises a human being or holds a different opinion than yours, he ought to be killed? is this why one never sees/hears/reads of a debate or criticism on islam? inthat case aren’t you intolerant too?Recommend

  • bvindh
    Jan 7, 2011 - 8:54AM

    @Adeel Ahmed,

    “Blasphemy relates to PROPHETS. Was Guru Nanak a Prophet? I dont have any evidence of it.”
    –And what’s the evidence in the case of rest of the prophethood claims?Recommend

  • Apeman
    Jan 7, 2011 - 10:44AM

    @ Adeel Ahmed.

    So by your logic, the blasphemy law only caters to the muslim point of view? That’s just ridiculous. People have an inalienable right to believe in what they wish.

    The very fact that there are different religions means that people don’t believe in the same things. Sunnis or Shias don’t believe in the message of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed. Just as Christians don’t believe in the message of Muhammad (pbuh). Or Jews don’t believe in Jesus’ (pbuh) message.

    By your logic, in an Ahmedi country, all Sunnis and Shias should be put to death. In Muslim countries all Christians should be executed and in Christian countries all Jews should be killed.

    Congratulations: You just halved the world’s population (as well as making undertakers the richest people on Earth). Recommend

  • tauseef
    Jan 7, 2011 - 5:20PM

    No, blasphemy law is to protect all prophets, including prophet Jesus, Moses (A.S). It is not about killing all person who don’t believe those messengers but only to prosecute those who dare such nonsense. Apart from above I cannot understand why people need to do this act.

    As far as the implementation of this is concerned in Pakistan, not even a single person is practically hanged to death yet today.
    Yes of course, as with any other law in world this law can be misused, but if it mean that we should nullify all the laws ???

    Lastly read about all the Prophets and then check “Mirza Ghulam Ahmed” life, None of Prophets of ALLAh have ever disgraced any person, however Mirza Ghulam Ahmed is all time violator of blasphemy law. I don’t want to comment more on him…Recommend

  • Adithya
    Jan 9, 2011 - 9:12PM

    Hi guys,

    I am from across the border in india. I am quite intrigued at the following paragraph,

    “Justice (retd) Mohammedi recommended extreme caution in registering a blasphemy case. He pointed out a judgment in a court of Andhra Pradesh, India, where the court held that if there are four witnesses to an alleged Zina, then the accused shall be prosecuted. And if the number of witnesses is less than four then the complainant as well as his witnesses shall be tried for Qazaf (false accusation and unreliable evidence). The punishment for registering a false or concocted case under section 182 of the Criminal Procedure Code is only six months or a fine of Rs1,000.”

    Could anyone of you please direct me to the source of that claim. As far as I am aware India does not have such a law. The proof of rape (zina) does not have to be backed by some mandatory ‘four’ witnesses. One witness is sufficient or in the absence of witnesses a medical examination confirming rape and DNA evidence will nail the case. I would also like to point out that India does not have any ‘blasphemy’ law. You are liberty to criticise any religion. The only grey area is an archaic British law that religious people try to invoke claiming malicious intent to create disharmony between religions. However this too cannot be used easily. The last sentence relating to Section 182 is correct though but it too has no relevance to blasphemy.

    My condolences on your loss of a moderate politician. It is indeed unfortunate that the extremist groups are thwarting all attempts at making Pakistan the wonderful place that it has the potential to be. Dont know how, but I do hope that you will be able to change the collective mindset. I am sure you will agree that religion should never become too powerful. Our basic needs as humans should be to lead a comfortable life without hampering the lives of our fellow human beings.

    Looking forward to a responseRecommend

  • Adithya
    Jan 10, 2011 - 9:43AM

    Hi guys,

    I am from across the border in India. I am reposting this comment since the moderator seems to have disapproved my comment. There is nothing offensive in what I write. I hope the moderator lets this through. I am quite intrigued at the following paragraph,

    “Justice (retd) Mohammedi recommended extreme caution in registering a blasphemy case. He pointed out a judgment in a court of Andhra Pradesh, India, where the court held that if there are four witnesses to an alleged Zina, then the accused shall be prosecuted. And if the number of witnesses is less than four then the complainant as well as his witnesses shall be tried for Qazaf (false accusation and unreliable evidence). The punishment for registering a false or concocted case under section 182 of the Criminal Procedure Code is only six months or a fine of Rs1,000.”

    Could anyone of you please direct me to the source of that claim. As far as I am aware India does not have such a law. The proof of rape (zina) does not have to be backed by some mandatory ‘four’ witnesses. One witness is sufficient or in the absence of witnesses a medical examination confirming rape and DNA evidence will nail the case. I would also like to point out that India does not have any ‘blasphemy’ law. You are liberty to criticise any religion. The only grey area is an archaic British law that religious people try to invoke claiming malicious intent to create disharmony between religions. However this too cannot be used easily. The last sentence relating to Section 182 is correct though but it too has no relevance to blasphemy.

    My condolences on your loss of a moderate politician. It is indeed unfortunate that the extremist groups are thwarting all attempts at making Pakistan the wonderful place that it has the potential to be. Dont know how, but I do hope that you will be able to change the collective mindset. I am sure you will agree that religion should never become too powerful. Our basic needs as humans should be to lead a comfortable life without hampering the lives of our fellow human beings.

    Looking forward to a responseRecommend

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