Changes In Blasphemy Laws
By Aftab Mughal
05 June, 2007
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly (NA), lower house
of the parliament, crushed a bill on May 8, which was moved by a Parsi
member MP Bhandara, seeking amendments to the controversial blasphemy
Majority of the house, especially
members of the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, 6 parties’ alliance of Muslim religious parties)
strongly opposed the bill, which was, interestingly, moved by the member
of the ruling party. The ruling party, which was formed through the
blessing of President General Pervez Musharraf, has always been helping
and supporting the extremist Islamic elements while President Musharraf,
on the other hand, proclaims for an enlightened moderation. Chaudhry
Shujaat Husain, president of ruling party PML (Q) is negotiating, and
supporting, clerics of Lal Masjid (LM) and Jamia Hafsa (JH) in Islamabad,
who want to enforce Shariah by force. The students of LM and JH have
been kidnapping, beating and threatening people in the name of religion.
Even on two occasions, the students of JH kidnapped policemen to pressurize
the government to accept their demands. In a recent incident they took
2 policemen hostage for 6 days and released them on May 24. Since January
this year, girls students of Jamia Hafsa have taken the un-lawful control
of a state-run Children Library in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, and
said till the Shariah law is enforced in the country they will not leave
the control of the library. Women Action Forum (WAF) organized a peaceful
protest rally on May 11 in front of Husain’s Lahore house against
the ‘deal’ between ruling Husain and the clerics of Lal
Masjid. Police arrested and later released at least 26 women of the
President Musharraf and
many government ministers have been admitting that blasphemy laws are
widely misused against religious minorities, especially against Christians,
Ahmadis and Hindus, but they are not ready to accept any change in the
The Parliament, especially
members of MMA, protested when Bhandara sought the speaker’s permission
to introduce the bill. The MMA, first time in the history of Pakistan,
is the third biggest parliamentary group in the house. In 342 members
NA, there are only 4 Christian members and 6 members from other religious
minorities. There is not even a single minority (religious) member in
the Senate, upper house of the parliament.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister
Sher Afgan Niazi was too critical on the bill who said the move would
only hurt the feelings of Muslims and asked the speaker not to put such
bills on the agenda of the house. Niazi informed the House that according
to the Article 227 of the Constitution, all existing laws should be
brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in
the Holy Quran and Sunnah. "No law shall be enacted which is repugnant
to such injunctions." Similarly, he said according to 125 Rules
of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the NA if a member raises the
objection that a bill is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam the matter
needs to be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology for advice as
to whether or not the bill is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.
“This is not a secular but an Islamic state,” the minister
The bill seeking curbs on
the abuse of laws. Bhandara said he wanted the same protection for (religious)
minorities as enjoyed by Muslims that were guaranteed by the constitution
under Article 2-A and Article 36, and assured by the father of the nation
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Bhandara proposed amending
Section 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860)
and inserting a new section 203-D in Act V of the Code of Criminal Procedure
General Zia in 80s, introduced
these laws. The Section 295-B is about defaming Holy Quran. Life sentence
is the punishment under this law. The Section 295-C is about defiling
the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); death sentence is the only punishment
under this law.
Bhandara proposed life imprisonment
for someone who willfully defiled damaged or desecrated the Quran or
any other holy book held sacred by any class of persons or an extract
there from or used it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose.
In the present form of the section, the punishment is restricted to
the desecration of the Quran only.
“In 2004 the government
did make procedural changes to the laws but these have rarely been implemented
since any complaint of blasphemy received by the police immediately
leads to the arrest of the accused and registration of an FIR,”
daily The News says in its editorial.
The misuse of blasphemy
laws are on the rise. In just two days in the first week of May, one
Christian and eight Muslims were charged under these laws. According
to NCJP, 90 cases of blasphemy have been reported in 2006. Out of which
only 48 were registered with the police. The reports said that out of
the 48 cases, 27 accused were Muslims, 10 Christians and 11 Ahmadis.
People use these laws to settle their personal scores. After the introduction
of these laws, Christians are constantly living under threat. Human
rights groups have been criticizing these laws, which persecute religious
minorities in the name of religion. Christian and Hindu minorities have
been demanding for the total repeal of these laws, because in any form
these laws would be misused against vulnerable religious minorities.
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