A division bench of the Sindh High Court's Hyderabad circuit on Friday stayed the proceedings in a case against four people who were booked on charges of blasphemy in Jamshoro a day earlier.
On Thursday, a first information report (FIR) was registered under Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) against four people after a video clip surfaced showing a woman solemnising the marriage of a man and a woman under what was called "Shariat-i-Latifi".
The video showed a man, a Sindhi nationalist and follower of the Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, getting the nikkah of his daughter performed by a woman, declaring that this was being done under ‘Shariat-i-Latifi’.
Section 295-A of the PPC deals with "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs", the punishment for which may be a fine or imprisonment for a period of up to 10 years, or both.
Besides the man, his daughter, the woman who performed the nikkah and the groom had been named in the FIR.
As the father of the bride was taken into custody on Thursday, the woman seen solemnising the marriage in the video, represented by Advocate Sajjad Chandio, filed a constitutional petition in the SHC naming the Sindh home secretary, Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Bashir Ahmed Janwari, Senior Superintendent of Police Jamshoro Irfan Bahadur and District Inspector General Hyderabad Khadim Rind as respondents.
The petitioner noted that ASI Janwari had lodged an FIR under Section 295-A of the PPC at the Khanot police station against her and three others.
She argued that Section 295-A of the PPC relates to offences against the state, and that all offences against the state are tried under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
She further argued that the joint reading of offences under Section 196 of the CrPC and Section 295-A of the PPC therefore demonstrated that the offence, registered under Section 295-A PPC, was not an offence against an individual but against the state.
Therefore, she maintained that the court could only take cognisance of the offence under Section 295-A PPC if the complaint was made or a case was registered under an order or by an authority of the federal or provincial government.
She observed that in the present case, the complainant was neither the federal nor the provincial government, and that the home secretary was not authorised to act on their behalf to lodge an FIR or case, as no such authority letter had been recommended or mentioned in FIR No. 22/17.
The petitioner argued that the filing of the case by an individual in a personal capacity is of no legal consequence and is without substance, as the court could not take cognisance of the case if the complaint was not filed by or under the authority of the central or provincial government, according to the law laid down by the superior courts.
She urged the court to quash the FIR and stay proceedings of the case based on this defence.
The division bench, comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Fahim Ahmed Siddiqui, subsequently restrained police officers from making any arrests in the matter.
The bench also issued notices to the respondents and the additional advocate general Sindh for Oct 30.