ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday set a month’s deadline for the federal government to amend the law to fix punishment for falsely accusing someone of blasphemy.

In a short order, the IHC asked the federal government to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 adding in it offences related to blasphemy and pornography as well.

The court disposed of a petition filed to block sacrilegious material from the social media after Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf submitted a statement that since the court had already pointed out the need for providing penal consequences for false accusations regarding blasphemy, the prime minister may direct the ministries to form a committee for assessing the existing legal regime and providing suitable amendments to various laws, including the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.

According to the statement of the attorney general, the proposed committee, headed by the minister of law and justice, would comprise the ministries of interior, information technology and religious affairs.

Justice Siddiqui gave the government a month to take appropriate measures in this regard after which it would pass a detailed order.

IHC gives govt one month to amend Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and add offences related to blasphemy and pornography

According to legal experts, since the blasphemy law carries capital punishment, there was a need to use the law very carefully.

In 2012, the capital police booked a Christian girl, Rimsha Masih , in a blasphemy case.

During the investigation, it was revealed that the girl had falsely been accused by a cleric, Khalid Jadoon.

Subsequently, the girl was acquitted and the cleric was also released after a few weeks.

The experts said since the maximum punishment for falsely accusing someone of an offence was Rs30,000 or six months’ imprisonment, the false accuser felt it easy to associate someone with blasphemy which may cause death or life imprisonment besides fear of extra-judicial killing.

When contacted, Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali told Dawn that the court had pointed out a serious issue and the government would come up with a tangible solution.

Regarding actions against five bloggers, the court directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to proceed in the matter in accordance with the law and in case any evidence was found against them, they may be brought back to Pakistan.

The court directed the secretary interior to identify the nongovernmental organisations that were allegedly behind circulating blasphemy and pornography and securing financial assistance from different groups within or outside Pakistan.

The secretary interior was also directed to constitute a committee for blocking blasphemous material and identifying persons responsible for uploading and organising the content in the social media.

Besides, the court directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to “evolve some comprehensive and delicate mechanism to identify the pages/websites containing blasphemous content in order to take some remedial steps.”

It directed the chairman PTA “to ensure that a scientific mechanism is evolved to bring awareness about the blasphemy and pornography with penal consequences under the law.”

The interior ministry informed the court that the government had written a letter to the secretary general Arab League as well as the secretary general Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for taking up the issue in accordance with the resolutions of Human Rights Council.

The short order said, “for the reasons recorded later on, instant writ petition is disposed of.”

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2017