Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Two witnesses mandatory for anyone to get blasphemy case registered at police station.
The Senate’s Special Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday recommended that perpetrators of false accusations of blasphemy be given the same punishment as set for those convicted for blasphemy.
“Anyone falsely accusing someone of blasphemy should be subjected to the same punishment as a person convicted of blasphemy,” the recommendation stated.
The punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan ranges from several years in prison to a death sentence. Under existing laws, a person making a false accusation can only face proceedings under Section 182 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which entails a maximum punishment of six months, or a mere Rs 1,000 fine.
It was claimed that Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had also recommended the same punishment in its annual report of 2000-2001 and 2003-2004.
Section 295-C was added by an act of parliament in 1986 during Gen Zia’s regime, making the use of blasphemous remarks about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) a criminal offence punishable by death. The recommendation also stated that anyone looking to register a blasphemy case at a police station should have to bring two witnesses to support their accusation.
However, committee member Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar, who belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, opposed the recommendations, terming them “an attempt to sabotage the blasphemy law”.
“Are there no other laws in the country that are being misused?” the legislator complained. “We are not trying to make any changes to the blasphemy law, we are trying to keep people from misusing it,” Senator Farhatullah Babar clarified.
The committee has decided to forward its recommendations to the CCI.
Last year in October, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suggested parliament to make the blasphemy law tougher by fixing the same punishment for any person misusing it or falsely accusing someone of blasphemy.
IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had said in his order that due to the misuse of the law, critics even demanded abolishing it, adding it was better to stop exploitation of the law rather than abolishing it.
At the time, the judge had referred the matter to the legislature.
On February 16, the Interior Ministry submitted a draft of proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to Justice Siddiqui. The amendments had sought to equate punishments for a false accusation of blasphemy to the punishment for actually committing blasphemy. The matter had first been brought before the IHC by the Lal Masjid-led Shuhada (Martyr’s) Foundation, which had initially accused five bloggers of sharing blasphemous content on social media last year. However, the Federal Investigation Agency had later informed the IHC that the bloggers, who had been forcefully disappeared early last year, were not involved in blasphemy and the investigation agency had not found any tangible evidence against them. Justice Siddiqui had subsequently proposed invoking the blasphemy-related Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with those who falsely accuse another of blasphemy.
In his116-page verdict, Justice Siddiqui had discussed in detail the criticism against the blasphemy law and said that due to misuse of this law, critics were demanding its abolition, adding that it would be better to stop the exploitation of the law rather than abolishing it.
The committee also discussed the Youhanabad lynching case and said that the charges against those arrested in the case should be reconsidered.
Recapping the case for the committee, Babar said: “Three years ago, two churches were targeted in Youhanabad as a result of which at least 150 Christian citizens died. People in the area conducted protests to condemn the deaths of their fellow citizens – as is their right. These people were charged with terrorism and have been rotting in jail for three years.”
“Terrorism charges against the people arrested should be dropped and they should be tried in civil courts,” the committee recommended, while adding that charging innocent people with terrorism is unfair.
Krishna Kumari became Pakistan's first Hindu-Dalit senator after she was elected to the upper house of parliament Saturday. In an interview with DW, Kumari talks about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan.
DW: You are the first lower caste Hindu senator in Pakistan's history? How do you feel about it?
Krishna Kumari: I still cannot believe that I have become senator. It feels like a dream. Even male members of our community [Dalit] haven't made it to parliament. We are a community that has not been given many opportunities to excel.
As daughter of a peasant in Sindh province, it was unimaginable that I could become member of the upper house of parliament one day. As a child, I had to work very hard as a bonded laborer. So when the Pakistan People's Party (headed by Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in 2007) chose me for the Senate seat (reserved seat), I was really surprised. Not only me, but the whole Hindu community in Pakistan was excited.
My election to the Senate means that even those who were opposed to girls' education are now thinking to put their daughters in school. I have become a role model for so many people in my country.
Can we say that your election to the Senate is a step toward a liberal and progressive Pakistan?
It bodes well for Pakistan. An oppressed and backward community that could only vote for the majority candidates can now choose their own members of parliament. It is definitely a progressive step.
There are now three members of the Hindu community in the Senate. We need to make efforts to work for the oppressed communities. I am sure we can make a difference.
There are laws for the protection of minorities and other marginalized communities in Pakistan. We need to make sure that they are properly implemented. Also, we need to work for more legislation to help these communities.
But the election of one or two minority members to the Senate doesn't guarantee a structural change. What do you say about it?
I am optimistic. I have worked hard to be where I am now. For years, I have been involved in campaigns to create awareness about education and other social issues. We must continue with these efforts to improve our political and social systems. I firmly believe that we can bring about a change.
There have been many cases of forced conversions of Hindus to Islam in your Sindh province. Why has the PPP's provincial government not able to put an end to it?
It is fine if a Hindu girl marries a Muslim out of her free will, but it is not acceptable if she is forced to do so. Forced marriages and religious conversions happen in some parts of Sindh and the PPP government has made efforts to stop them.
I will try my best to ensure the implementation of laws on forced Hindu marriages and explore ways to pass new legislation.
What needs to be done to ensure more political empowerment for women in Pakistan?
I think education is key to female empowerment because with it comes awareness, a larger share in jobs and more representation for women in parliament. At present, the representation of women in parliament is not satisfactory. I would like to see at least 50 percent representation of women in parliament because they constitute more than 50 percent of Pakistan's population.
You are also a rights activist. What are you currently working on?
I have been working on campaigns to create awareness about health, education, human rights, bonded labor and some other issues in my constituency in Thar district. Girls' education is not a priority for many people in Pakistan. Underage marriage is another a pressing problem in many areas, including Thar. With my Senate position, I will be in a better position now to make a difference.