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ISLAMABAD: An anti terrorism court (ATC) on Monday recorded the statements of three witnesses in a case related to the uploading of sacrilegious content on social media.

The witnesses who testified before ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand included the complainant Ehtesham Ahmed, as well as Romaan Ahmed and Ammar Yasir.

The witnesses testified against the four suspects already in custody and facing trial for uploading blasphemous content on social media.

Since the suspects’ counsel was not in attendance, the cross-examination of the witnesses was postponed until today (Tuesday).

Statements recorded after court issued non-bailable warrants for witnesses due to absence from proceedings

At a previous hearing, the ATC had issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the complainant and the two witnesses over their failure to appear before the court. However, all three appeared before the court and recorded their statements on Monday.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had booked four suspects in connection with the blasphemy case.

FIA registered a first information report (FIR) under various sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997.

Earlier, the ATC had dismissed the bail plea of one of the suspects, said to be a college professor.

The matter was brought before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by the Lal Masjid-led Shohada Foundation, which initially accused five bloggers of uploading blasphemous content.

However, the incumbent FIA director general recently informed the IHC that the bloggers who went missing earlier last year were not involved in blasphemy, since the investigation agency has not found any tangible evidence against them.

Islamabad High Court Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, in his judgment on the petition at hand, had proposed the invoking of the blasphemy-related section 295 of the PPC, dealing with those who falsely accuse another of blasphemy.

In a 116-page verdict, Justice Siddiqui discussed in detail the common criticisms against the blasphemy law and said that due to misuse of this law, critics were demanding its abolition, adding that it would be better to stop the exploitation of the law rather than abolishing it.

“Admittedly, not a single convict whether Muslim or non-Muslim has ever been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan”, the judgment maintained.

The detailed judgment also explained how, in cases of personal enmity, people managed to drag their rivals into blasphemy cases, putting at risk the lives of the accused person and all their friends and family members.

However, under the existing law, a person making a false accusation could only face proceedings under Section 182 of the PPC, which entails a maximum punishment of six months, or a mere Rs1,000 fine.

The verdict referred the matter to the legislature to amend the law and award the same punishment for lodging a false complaint under the blasphemy law.

The federal government had also informed the IHC on Dec 22, 2017 that besides the PPC, the government would also amend the cybercrime law to include blasphemy and pornography as scheduled offences.

The IHC has sought reports from the information ministry and interior secretary regarding steps taken for implementing the earlier verdict by Jan 15, and adjourned further hearing until Jan 26, 2018.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2018