Senate body seeks details of persons detained under blasphemy law

Published September 12, 2023
Senator Walid Iqbal, the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, presided over a meeting of the committee at Parliament House in Islamabad. — Photo courtesy Senate website
Senator Walid Iqbal, the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, presided over a meeting of the committee at Parliament House in Islamabad. — Photo courtesy Senate website

The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday sought details of persons detained under the blasphemy law from the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR).

Senator Walid Iqbal chaired a meeting of the committee. According to an official handout, the body adopted the recommendation to constitute a national coordination committee within the Ministry of Human Rights to draft standard operating procedures for “effective control on issues that cause suffering to minorities”.

The committee condemned the Jaranwala incident, when a violent mob destroyed dozens of houses and churches over allegations of blasphemy, and also deliberated on the steps taken in the aftermath, the handout said.

The handout said that the committee “repeatedly expressed concern over the abuse of blasphemy laws” and observed that incidents like Jaranwala were a cause for shame for the nation.

“The committee chair sought details of persons detained under blasphemy law in the next meeting,” the handout said.

Speaking to Dawn.com, Senator Iqbal said that the committee had sought details of blasphemy cases from the NCHR. “We have asked about how many people are being tried under the blasphemy law, how many people are in jail and how many people have been sentenced,” he said.

He said that the committee had also sought complete details about the cases being tried under the blasphemy law. “If the law was used against Muslims, then details on this should also be provided,” he said, adding that the NCHR would submit these details at the committee’s next hearing.

During the hearing, Ministry of Human Rights Secretary Allah Dino Khowaja briefed the committee on the Jaranwala incident. He said that two Christian youths had been accused of desecrating the Holy Quran.

He further said that mob violence had caused damage to dozens of homes, adding that it had been decided that 92 families would be compensated for the rampage.

The secretary said that there was a lack of coordination between the federation and the provinces. He proposed forming a national coordination committee, adding that there was also a need for improving policing.

The committee agreed with the secretary’s view regarding the formation of a national coordination committee to prevent such incidents from taking place in the future.

Revisiting blasphemy law

During the meeting, PTI’s Seemee Ezdi suggested revisiting the blasphemy law. “Earlier, such incidents did not happen so frequently,” she said, adding that it needed to be examined whether “something was left out”.

“Many people are also afraid to talk about this,” she said.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui, however, disagreed with Seemee’s view. “If there is no law, then there will be no way to curb it,” he said.

“There should be a law to prevent every incident,” he said, adding that the “path should not be blocked”.

At this, Seemee said, “The path will not be blocked. We will review the law.”

Speaking to Dawn.com separately, Seemee said that there had to be a reason why such incidents (of mob violence) were taking place with such frequency.

“People think that if they do this, they will go to heaven. We only have to revisit the blasphemy law, not change it,” she said. “We have to look at how we can make it better.”

The senator reiterated that people were afraid to talk about the issue and a decision in this regard had to be taken after much consideration.

“The matter could not be decided during today’s meeting. Let’s see what happens in the next meeting,” she said.

Incarceration of PTI women

During the hearing, PTI Senator Falak Naaz Chitrali raised the issue of the arrest of the party’s women workers. She said that 35 PTI women were in jail. The committee then decided to call a meeting on the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the party’s women workers.

Senator Iqbal said that the committee would call a meeting for this month. He said that the meeting’s agenda would have the arrest of the PTI chief and the party’s women workers on the agenda.

The committee also decided to meet Imran and the incarcerated workers.

“The women have been arrested for the past several months without any (charges),” Chitrali said, calling for meeting the women in jail.

At this, Senator Iqbal said, “Okay, we will go and meet them in jail. I will also talk to the Senate chairman regarding this matter.”

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