Procedural changes in blasphemy laws proposed
ISLAMABAD: As the blasphemy cases and laws are again being discussed in the country, Parliament has been advised by a human rights watchdog to make procedural changes in the blasphemy laws with addition of repentance to avoid their misuse.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its report on the blasphemy laws presented in the Senate of Pakistan has proposed procedural amendments to the laws to avoid their misuse with a special mention of repentance. “In substantive law, the aspect of repentance is missing, whereas forgiveness was allowed by the Prophet (SAW) to those who repented”, the report prepared by NCHR says.
The commission has also proposed that criminal cases should be registered against those who hurl false and malicious blasphemy-related allegations and that the offences covered in blasphemy laws should be made bailable.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have often been under discussion both within and outside the country for their alleged misuse to settle personal scores. Of late, even the Supreme Court of Pakistan mentioned such things in its judgment against Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the police constable who murdered Punjab governor Salman Taseer for supporting a blasphemy convict advocating for changes in the laws related to blasphemy.
The NCHR headed by Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chohan in the report has mentioned that repealing the blasphemy laws would invite strong reaction from the society and religious groups, however, doable procedural amendments can avoid misuse of these laws in future. The proposed amendments are:
“Amend section 156-A of CrpC which reads “investigation of offence under section 296C, PPC notwithstanding anything contained in this code, no police officer below the rank of a Superintendent of Police shall investigate the offence against any person alleged to have been committed by him under section 295C of the PPC” to include all blasphemy- related offences, including in particular sections 295-B, 298-A, 298-B and 298-C of the PPC with a view to decreasing prosecutions based on false and malicious complaints.
Ensure the effective implementation of section 156-A of CrPC, which provides that for complaints under section 295-C, no officer below the rank of a Superintendent of Police shall investigate the complaint.
Ensure that prosecuting and investigating agencies discharge their function independently and impartially, in a manner that respects and protects human right without discrimination, and that prosecutorial discretion be exercised to ensure that only bona fide complaints of recognisable criminal conduct are registered and pursued.
Register criminal cases where courts have concluded or there are reasonable grounds to believe that complainant and/or the witnesses in blasphemy cases have committed perjury.
Amend Schedule II of the CrPC to make all blasphemy-related offences (sections 295 to 298-C of PPC) bailable, and ensure bail is only denied where there is substantial risk of flight, harm to others, or interference with the investigation that cannot be allayed by other means.
Remove section 295-A of PPC from the list of scheduled offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Awareness, training and regularisation of Imam, investigation, prosecution, judges and lawyers on the blasphemy laws be conducted.
District peace/interfaith committees and local scholars of known credibility should be involved in blasphemy cases at initial stage of institution of proceedings. In the substantive law, the aspect of repentance is missing, whereas forgiveness was allowed by the Prophet (PBUH) to those who repented.