ISLAMABAD: Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani has said that a ‘review’ of the blasphemy law does not mean that it could be changed or amended.
“It is the CII’s responsibility to review and assess all laws formulated in the country,” he told Dawn, adding, “if the government, through the relevant ministry, forwards any amendment(s) in the blasphemy law, then the Council will certainly look into it”.
The CII is mandated to review all laws in the country and suggest amendments to bring them in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Quran.
Maulana Sheerani, who is also a JUI-F MNA, recently raised hopes among activists when he said in an interview that the CII would be willing to review the country’s blasphemy laws.
CII has refused to consider changes to law at least thrice in the past
Speaking to Dawn, however, he said that reviewing a law did not mean that the CII would amend it to suit the wishes of a certain segment of society.
“Most of the issues are to do with implementation of laws, and as far as the misuse of the blasphemy law is concerned, well, we can see that almost all laws in the country are flouted in one way or the other.”
The CII has, in the past, turned down almost all proposals suggesting any changes to the blasphemy laws.
In Dec 1993, the CII ruled that to stop the law’s misuse, there was a need to strengthen laws related to false evidence and lodging a false report. The CII even referred to Section 193 of the Pakistan Penal Code (which deals with provision of false evidence) and called on the government to make the law more stringent to prevent misuse.
Similarly, on a suggestion by the Pakistan Law and Justice Commission to make blasphemy a non-cognisable offence, the CII in April 1998 noted that misuse of the blasphemy law was a serious issue, but any changes in the law would be counterproductive, and may even lead to a rise in the instances of the offence.
“There is a need to keep the blasphemy law as a cognisable offence, so police have the power to arrest the accused without a warrant. This will deter people from disrespecting the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him),” the CII report of 1997-98 stated.
The last such observation was made in 2013, based on a recommendation by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The ministry had stated that Christian citizens, in the aftermath of the riots in Lahore’s Joseph Colony, had demanded that the law be amended to ensure respect for other religions too.
The ministry had suggested that changes be made to the law so that ‘disrespecting the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’ would become ‘disrespecting all the Prophets’; and an ‘insult to Islam’ be converted to ‘insult to faith’.
However, the CII had ruled that there were already laws that protected the integrity and sanctity of all religious and religious personalities, therefore, there was no need to amend the blasphemy law or formulate a new one.
“There are fears that if there are any formal changes made to the blasphemy law, it will eventually lead to pressure to abolish the law altogether,” the CII’s research department had ruled.
The same has been stated annual report of the CII 2012-13.
The report highlights, “These changes in the blasphemy law look like they are a tit-for-tat move; since there are some Muslims who frame false cases against non-Muslims, so this change will allow non-Muslims to lodge false cases against Muslims as well.”
Incidentally, a two-day CII meeting held in September last year witnessed divergent views over the question of awarding the death penalty to those who make false accusations. The matter was the subject of heated debate between two groups in the CII, and on 18 Sept 2013, the CII meeting suggested that the government made amendments in the blasphemy laws.
The CII meeting also agreed to the proposal of awarding the death penalty for individuals convicted of making false accusations.
“This was my suggestion and it is necessary to end the misuse of the blasphemy law,” Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, a former member of the CII, told Dawn.
Incidentally, the following day, on Sept 19 2013, hardliners in the CII banded together to strike down this proposal.
Hafiz Ashrafi recently retired from the CII on January, 23, 2016.
“If Maulana Sheerani was serious about improving the blasphemy law, then [I ask] why did he strike down my suggestion,” he asked, adding, “If he wants to take up the suggestion again and pass it under his own name, I have no objections.”
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2016