ISLAMABAD - Country’s top state body of clerics Wednesday suggested amendments to the controversial blasphemy laws, proposing the death penalty for people convicted of making false accusations.
The Council of Islamic Ideological (CII), which met with Maulana Muhammad Sheerani in the chair, upheld the Blasphemy Act as valid and legal but declared misuse of the law ‘totally un-Islamic’ and equally blasphemous.
“All the religious scholars agreed to put an end to the misuse of blasphemy laws,” Allama Tahir Ashrafi told news agency AFP. “Keeping in view the suggestions of human rights activists and civil society members, the Council of Ideology has decided to fix the same penalty for the person who falsely accuses of blasphemy as the accused,” he added.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim country and any statement against Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBHU) can be punished by death under the country’s penal code. But in many cases the law has been misused by people even for settling personal scores. Due to a general radicalisation of the society, even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response. In a number of cases the accused have been killed without holding a trial.
Calls for amending these laws have long faced stiff resistance from the religio-political leaders as well as the society at large. Ashrafi said the proposed amendment would ensure that “nobody dares to use religion to settle personal scores”. The amendment, he said, “will also silence critics of the blasphemy laws.“
The issue is so sensitive that Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated in 2011 for demanding reform in the blasphemy law. The governor called the blasphemy law as ‘black law’ in reference to its inherent flaws and the resultant misuse, but religious fanatics portrayed his remarks as an act of blasphemy that led to his murder by one of his own police guards.
The CII had 21 points on its agenda for its current session but it could take up only few items during Wednesday’s meeting. The controversy related to using DNA tests as evidence in rape cases drew heated debate. “The council has now left the matter of DNA evidence for the courts,” Ashrafi said.
According to the informed sources, a heated debate broke out between Sheerani and Tahir Ashrafi over the issue as the former bashed latter for issuing wrong statements to the media about the DNA-related decision of the council but Ashrafi strongly denied giving any statements to media in this regard.
At the end, the CII rejected the generally prevalent impression that it had rejected use of DNA tests in rape cases altogether. It declared that despite the diverse views, DNA test was the best scientific method that could be used in rape case but it maintained that it could only be used as supplementary of support evidence rather than major evidence.
The council observed that its recommendations had been misjudged and misquoted on issues relating to Hudood and Qisas (blood money) as well. Issues of printing of Quranic verses in newspapers as well as Women Protection Bill 2006 were also considered. Members of the CII had consensus over making the CII a subordinate institution of law ministry rather than placing it under the religious affairs ministry.
In a recent case, Imam Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti who was arrested for falsely implicating Rimsha Masih, a 14-year old mentally-challenged Christian girl of burning pages of the Quran in Aug 2012, has been acquitted by a trial court for lack of evidence.
During the trial, prosecution witnesses went back on their statements, blaming the police of coercion to testify against Chishti. Chishti’s lawyer Advocate Syed Wajid Gilani called the verdict a ‘victory of truth’.
The prosecution has alleged that Chishti desecrated the Quran to concoct evidence against Rimsha, a resident of a Christian slum in suburban Islamabad.
Following the allegation, Rimsha, who is reportedly suffering from Down’s syndrome, was arrested by the local police who registered a case against her. She was subsequently detained for three weeks in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, before being declared innocent by the Islamabad High Court.