Key bill seeking strict punishments for false blasphemy accusations withdrawn from Senate on PTI request
The Senate Secretariat on Saturday returned the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Bill 2018 on a request of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz had on Friday submitted a request to the secretariat for the withdrawal of the bill.
The bill had been moved on the directions of the Islamabad High Court after (then) Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had ordered last year that those who make false accusations of blasphemy should be given the same punishment as those convicted of blasphemy under the law.
However, in a statement yesterday, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Noorul Haq Qadri said that the government was determined to restore the bill to its "original soul" under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
Section 295-C was introduced in 1986 mandating the death penalty for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”.
Qadri also said that PTI members in the National Assembly and the Senate would strongly oppose any amendments to Section 295-C.
The minister also said that Information Technology Minister Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had submitted a motion in the Senate to withdraw the bill on Sept 27, which was still pending.
He added that another motion to withdraw the amended bill was submitted on Oct 11.
Syed Shibli Faraz had also submitted a request to the Senate Secretariat on Sept 19 to withdraw the amended bill.
In a statement, a Senate spokesperson said that the House had handed over the bill to the relevant standing committee.
The approval to present the said bill in parliament was given by the cabinet of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on May 29, 2018.
A draft of the bill was presented to the cabinet by former minister for information technology Anusha Rehman with the aim to curtail irreverent content (gustakhana muwad).
After the approval of the cabinet, the bill was sent to the House and presented in the Senate on Sept 19, after which it was forwarded to the relevant committee.
In his request, the leader of the house noted that approval to present the bill was received from the cabinet of the previous government and in order to constitutionally present the bill in the House, the approval of the current government was necessary.
He added that the PTI government had no relation to the bill which is why a request to withdraw it had been submitted to the Senate Secretariat.
On Wednesday, Jamiat Ulema-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri had announced that he would boycott meetings of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology if in-camera meetings were held to discuss equal punishments for those convicted of blasphemy and those who make false accusations of blasphemy.
Chaired by Senator Rubina Khalid, the committee on Sept 10 had decided not to discuss the bill in the absence of Information Technology Minister Siddiqui, who tabled the bill in the Senate, but Senator Haideri still started discussing the issue.
Senator Fida Mohammad suggested the matter be discussed in-camera due to its sensitivity and the committee chairperson endorsed the suggestion.
However, Senator Haideri said he would not sit in an in-camera meeting.
He then walked out, saying he did not want to be part of such a meeting and would make sure that any amendments to the law were blocked by his party.
He had also threatened consequences for anyone seeking to change the law from its current state.
With additional reporting by Nadir Guramani in Islamabad.