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Kunwar Khalid Yunus
December 04, 2010
The biggest millstone hanging around Pakistan is a remnant from General Ziaul Haq’s time in power — the seemingly untouchable blasphemy laws, first introduced and passed as law in 1986. The law was in fact never drafted, produced or debated in either house of parliament and was more or less bulldozed, through Zia’s Majlis-e-Shura, by a member of parliament who belonged to the Jamaat-i-Islami. The law was approved swiftly without any debate, because that would have meant opposition and the climate in those days was such that it was a risk most lawmakers would not be willing to take. Besides, the dictator in charge at that time, General Zia, wanted their passage so there wasn’t really much that parliament could do in any case.
Given the widespread reported abuse of the blasphemy law, it should be clear to any sensible individual that the existing legislation needs to be modified. To this effect, a proposal has been introduced by an MNA from the ruling party. However, I should add that in the past, it was the MQM that presented at least five amendments to the Hudood Ordinance in 2002. Laying the Hudood Ordinance for amendments in parliament was no joke, given the threats that usually come from clerics and risks associated with backing such legislation.
The most brutal blasphemy laws out of the 57 countries that make up the OIC are found in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among them, the laws in Pakistan are perhaps the most stringent. A blasphemy law constitutes a death penalty or a death penalty with a fine for the “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)” and a Shariat Court judgment in 1990 made the death sentence mandatory.
In Afghanistan, the constitution says: “Blasphemy may be punished by penalties up to execution by hanging.” The Afghan constitution was later rewritten, changing many of its articles to make them in accordance with the 21st century.
In Saudi Arabia, the laws prescribe “penalty up to the death for blasphemy” — and this is, surprisingly, less harsh than the law in Pakistan. The law in the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, prescribes a maximum punishment for blasphemy for five years in jail (Article 156-A of the Indonesian constitution).
Statistics compiled by a well-reputed NGO in Pakistan reveals that of the 378 individuals who have been tried over the years under the blasphemy law, as many as 10 per cent met a violent fate, as in they were killed by frenzied mobs merely on the assumption that they had indeed committed an act of blasphemy. This shows the extent of the law’s misuse and is a strong argument for their modification so as to prevent innocent people from being killed.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2010.