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Pakistan Parliament Rejects
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 laws.

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 rally.

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 law.

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 asserted.

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 1898.

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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