Recently, the chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology has offered to look into possible inconsistencies in Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. The chairperson went on to recommend that the government should submit the laws to his council for review. The Council of Islamic Ideology is a body in Pakistan that reviews laws passed by the Pakistani legislature to ensure they are consistent with Islamic jurisprudence. This recent statement has given many in Pakistan hope that the blasphemy laws, which have for so long been untouchable, could be reviewed and reformed. Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan suffer disproportionately under the current laws which are widely abused to settle scores, for personal gain, or to incite religious hatred against a particular community.
2/9/2016 Pakistan (The News) – Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, the chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology, has offered to look into the possible doctrinal inconsistencies in the blasphemy laws, “should the government refer” this matter to advisory jurisdiction of the council.
The maulana’s posture affirms the position Justice Asif Saeed Khosa took in November 2015 that ruled out that discussion on the law amounted to blasphemy. Justice Khosa also emphasised the “manmade” nature of the law during the hearing on the Mumtaz Qadri case.
A day before Maulana Sherani’s statement, Justice Ibadurehman Lodhi of the Lahore High Court passed an acquittal order for Ghulam Ali Asghar, who had been incarcerated for four years under the blasphemy law. In his order, the honourable justice quoted two previous judgements that cautioned the executive branch about registering blasphemy cases based on flimsy allegations and unfair trials.
Among the judgements quoted was Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan’s, who heads the National Commission on Human Rights now; he had even provided guidelines for the police to deal with blasphemy charges. The judgement was passed in 2002, largely unimplemented to date.
Moreover, the two judicial enquiries conducted after the mass violence cases of Shantinagar (1997) and Gojra (2009) entailed incredibly practical recommendations by Justice Tanvir Ahmad Khan and Justice Iqbal Hameed Uddin, respectively. These inquiry reports had recommended introducing legislative review and amendments, educational activities as well as institutional reforms to address the abuse of blasphemy laws.
The higher and superior judiciaries, despite their limitations, have been consistently trying to remedy the injustices of prejudiced prosecution under blasphemy charges. Rimsha Masih, Shama and Shahzad and Dr Younis Shaikh are a few examples. Hence the verdicts in individual cases and those of collective responsibility provide a sufficient basis for action on the part of the executive and legislature if they wanted to resolve the issue of abuse of law and religion.
A research carried out recently by the Legal Aid Society Karachi showed that: “The majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community”.