Our leaders have failed to discuss the misuse of blasphemy laws in the Parliament says CLAAS-UK Director

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An excerpt from Nasir Saeed’s article

Despite acknowledging its growing misuse by all sections of our society, including religious scholars, politicians, government, judiciary and civil society, our leadership has failed to show the guts and raise a consensus to have the debate in the parliament over this most misused, criticized and controversial law in Pakistan.

CLAAS UK

Although some parliamentarians made attempts to have a debate on this issue, their endeavours remained unsuccessful. Either they were silenced with death threats from extremists, or discouraged by their fellow parliamentarians. In May 2007 when Minority MNA Mr M P Bhandara presented a private bill, it incensed many parliamentarians and the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi articulately warned Mr Bhandara that Pakistan is Islamic country and such a bill cannot be discussed in parliament.

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In November 2010, PPP’s MNA Sherry Rehman dared to submit a private member’s bill to amend the blasphemy law, but she was also threatened with death, as her act was considered equal to blasphemy by some people. Thousands of people related to different Islamic groups rallied and protested nationwide against her proposal of dropping the death penalty. At last, the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was forced to announce the government was not considering to amend the blasphemy law and no committee had been formed to suggest changes in the law, in order to calm Islamic extremists.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf also tried to amend the law but failed, with even the police not following their directive. By the passage of time and obliviousness of our politicians now it has become a complicated and sensitive issue, and whenever such statement comes from anybody, Islamic groups vehemently oppose any amendments. Last time, in March 2016, Islamic groups only ended their four-day sit-in in Islamabad after assurance from the government that the blasphemy law would not be amended.

Now PPP’s senior politician Senator Farhatullah Babar’s statement about reforming the blasphemy law has raised our hopes of seeing an end to the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. So far, I saw no strong objections or protests from the Islamic groups. Perhaps it is not to my knowledge, or they might be waiting for further developments, but one thing I am sure about, is that it is not going to be easy.

According to Senator Babar, Senate Committee on Human Rights’ discussions about blasphemy laws will be based on recommendations from an old report that remained untraceable for 24 years. He recently discovered the document, told by Mr I A Rehman, Director HRCP a strong critic of the blasphemy law.

Senator Baber says it is a mystery how the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991 — making the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy — was passed, despite the relevant committee seeking clarification.

I think it all happened after Advocate Ismail Qureshi, and some other people had a meeting with the then PM Nawaz Sharif. What a coincidence that he is the prime minister now when the amendment is being recommended again. It is often said that PM Nawaz Sharif has changed since then and is a different person now. I can say his speech at the recent inauguration of a water filtration plant at Katas Raj temple complex was a slight glimpse. The aspiration to make a Pakistan minority friendly country and promoting its soft image in the world is not possible while we have the blasphemy law on our statute book. The Senate Committee on Human Rights is providing another opportunity, and it’s time for the prime minister to take this matter and prove that what he said was not just a political statement, but his vision for Pakistan to make this country Quaid’s Pakistan.