Senate committee recommends punishment for false accusations of blasphemy

A Senate 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 Rs1,000 fine.

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 Council of Islamic Ideology.

Push for equal punishment

Last year, in October, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suggested that parliament make the blasphemy law tougher by fixing the same punishment for any person misusing it or falsely accusing someone of blasphemy.

The recommendation was made in a long order addressing a a petition seeking the elimination of blasphemous content from social media.

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.

The Interior Ministry had on February 16 submitted to Justice Siddiqui a draft of proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. 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 uploading 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 common criticisms 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 detailed judgement also explained how, in cases of personal enmity, people managed to drag their rivals into blasphemy cases, putting at risk the lives of the accused and all their friends and family members.

Youhanabad case

The Senate Special 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.

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