Changing the blasphemy law
THE state minister for information had announced on Saturday that Pakistan’s minorities would get good news on Christmas in the form of a review of discriminatory laws, which included the blasphemy law. Although the promised review did not come on Monday, one hopes that it will be taken up soon and the government has not changed its mind about it. Adopted in 1986 as Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the amendment made it a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment for anyone who defiled the Holy Quran or the name of the Holy Prophet. Although it applies to everyone professing any faith, it is no coincidence that the blasphemy law has been used mostly against non-Muslim minorities. The way it has been operated – given the emotive nature of the issue – it has been easy for anyone to make allegations of blasphemy against a person without any substantial evidence. As a result, a large number of cases have seen the misuse of the law by unscrupulous elements to settle personal scores or resolve property disputes in their favour. Unfortunately this brought Pakistan a bad name in the international community for lack of tolerance and as a tormentor of its minorities.
Recognising the potential the law had for abuse, in 2000 General Pervez Musharraf, at that time the chief executive, tried to introduce procedural changes by tightening the process of registering an FIR. Even this move, though it did not touch the substance of the law, provoked an outcry by the religious parties which have emerged as the guardians of the faith. Now that President Musharraf has been championing the cause of the oppressed in Pakistan – be they the women or the minorities – the time is now for him to address the blasphemy law. His policy of enlightened moderation has left no doubt in one’s mind that personally he is not a bigot or an obscurantist. He should not have any problem in showing tolerance towards the faith and beliefs of the religious minorities. More important, there has been a shift in his politics as the elections draw closer. He is not expected to be a sympathiser of the causes the MMA stands for. It should be easy for him to stand firm and introduce the changes to the blasphemy law as he did in the case of the Hudood Ordinances.