ISLAMABAD: Senators on Monday called for amending the blasphemy law to provide for punishments to those who concoct blasphemy accusations against others and deman­ded a campaign against those taking the law into their hands.

Condemning the lynching of Mashal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, lawmakers stressed the need for effective steps to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law.

Talking about the blatant misuse of the law, PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said a religious scholar had proposed that accusers who levelled false accusations should suffer the same sentence as provided for a blasphemer.

He recalled how a Federal Shariat Court decision had prompted the maximum punishment for blasphemy to be increased from life imprisonment to death, reminding the house that Raja Zafarul Haq — the current leader of the house — was the chairman of law and justice committee at the time.

He said the committee had made some suggestions while approving the bill and called for that report to be made the basis of any further action.

“The assassination of Mashal Khan should make us think about concrete measures to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law; we need to revisit this law,” he remarked.

When Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asked him how mob and street justice could be stopped, Senator Babar said that effective legislation would serve to deter such a mentality.

Retired Gen Abdul Qayyum of the PML-N also called for flaws in the blasphemy law to be addressed. He stressed that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and prohibits any excesses, even against animals “This was not terrorism, but savagery,” he remarked on the lynching.

JI chief Siraj-ul-Haq said that the rule of law was what defined a civilized society and that even if someone was guilty of a crime, no individual or organisation had the right to punish that individual unilaterally. “This shows an imbalance and lack of tolerance in society,” he remarked.

He claimed that no civilised person would support such a ghastly act and called for more than “traditional investigations” in this matter, adding that all the facts surrounding the brutal lynching should be brought placed the people as soon as possible.

Winding up discussion, Minister of State for interior Baleeghur Rahman said there was clarity on the issue at a political level as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the heads of political parties had condemned the incident. However, he admitted that there was a need to check intolerance and revealed that work on a new curriculum was under way.

The House also passed two bills to amend some sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Rabbani’s protest

Earlier, members from both sides of the aisle welcomed Chairman Raza Rabbani by thumping their desks when he entered the house. The chairman had wound up proceedings of the upper house in disgust on Friday after becoming infuriated with the government’s “non-serious” attitude towards the Senate.

Explaining the events since Friday, Mr Rabbani said his decision was the result of a series of incidents. It had become a practice that ministries did not answer questions and sometimes, ministers were not present in the house to answer queries, he said. Things had piled up, he said, and he continued to point out the government’s lapses.

On Friday, 11 questions were not answered and four ministers were also absent, he told the house, adding that his step had no relation to his person, nor was it a political drama and was only related to the respect and sanctity of the house and its members.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2017

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