ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that a call for improvements in the blasphemy law in order to provide safeguards against its misuse by levelling false allegations should not be considered objectionable.
“Any call for reforming the blasphemy law (Section 295-C Pakistan Penal Code) ought not to be mistaken as a call for doing away with that law and it ought to be understood as a call for introducing adequate safeguards against malicious application or use of that law by motivated persons,” says the detailed judgment issued on Tuesday by the apex court in the Salman Taseer murder case.
On Oct 7, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had restored the Oct 1, 2011 capital sentence awarded by an anti-terrorism court to Malik Mohammad Mumtaz Qadri — an Elite Force commando who assassinated former Punjab governor Salman Taseer outside his residence adjacent to an upscale market in Islamabad on Jan 4, 2011 — for allegedly committing blasphemy.
The court was seized with two appeals, one moved by Advocate Mian Nazir Akhtar on behalf of Mumtaz Qadri, and the other by the federal government also against the Islamabad High Court verdict.
Authored by Justice Khosa, the 39-page judgment said that blasphemy was abhorrent and immoral, besides being a manifestation of intolerance, but a false allegation is equally detestable as well as culpable.
Detailed judgement issued in Salman Taseer murder case
If Islam comes down heavily upon commission of blasphemy then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations about a crime, the verdict said. It asked the state to ensure that no innocent person was compelled to face an investigation or a trial on the basis of false or trumped up allegations of blasphemy.
The definition of blasphemy in Section 295-C PPC, the judgment said, might be considered by some to need improvement to bring it in line with the true scope of the concept of blasphemy. Likewise, there may be others who may feel that some procedural and other safeguards need to be introduced so that it should become difficult to level or prosecute a false allegation regarding commission of the offence of blasphemy.
The issue involved in this case is not as to whether anybody is allowed to commit blasphemy by defiling the sacred name, but the real question involved is whether a person is justified in killing another person on his own on the basis of an unverified impression or an un-established perception that the other person has committed blasphemy.
Citing amendments in the Hudood laws, the judgment said that in all matters, including religious, there was an ongoing effort to keep the laws of the land updated through amendments to meet the emerging challenges and also to provide safeguards against mischievous manipulations, misapplication or misuse of the existing laws.
It is an unfortunate fact, which cannot be disputed, that in many cases registered in respect of blasphemy offence, false allegations are levelled for extraneous purposes. And in the absence of adequate safeguards against misapplication or misuse of such law by motivated persons the persons falsely accused of that offence suffer beyond proportion or repair, the verdict said.
Referring to one of the Judicial Training Toolkits prepared by the Legal Aid Society, Karachi, the court recalled, cases against 434 offenders under blasphemy laws were registered in Pakistan from 1953 to July 2012. And among them 258 were Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and 4 Hindus.
Since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered for having been implicated in blasphemy cases. Among them were 25 Muslims, 15 Christians, 5 Ahmadis and 1 each Buddhist and Hindu. During 2013, the verdict said, 34 new cases were registered under the blasphemy laws.
While one death sentence for blasphemy was overturned during the year, at least another 17 people were awaiting execution for blasphemy and at least 20 others were serving life sentences.
The government has never carried out a death sentence for blasphemy, but a report suggested that at least five people accused of blasphemy had died in police custody in recent years, the judgment said.
The majority of blasphemy cases are 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, says the judgment.
Citing the failure, inefficiency and incompetence of the investigating officer (IO) in handling the case like Qadri’s, the court ordered the Inspector General of Police, Punjab, to ensure that whenever such case was registered in future, it should be entrusted to a team of at least two gazetted IOs preferably those conversant with the Islamic jurisprudence. In case they themselves are not conversant with Islamic laws, a scholar of known reputation and integrity should be added to the team.
The team should then investigate whether or not an offence has been committed and if it comes to the conclusion that the offence has been committed the police may only then proceed further in the matter.
The verdict also proposed that the trial in such cases be held by a court presided over by no less than a district and sessions judge.
The judgment regretted that Qadri acted on hearsay without getting his information ascertained, verified or investigated and as Allah Almighty has warned, brought harm not only to another person (Salman Taseer) but also to himself.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2015