ISLAMABAD: The recent arrest of a Christian girl in the capital’s rural area on blasphemy charges has broken the silence of the ruling PPP which has been quiet on the issue over the past year since the assassination of two of its leaders, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, for suggesting some changes in the controversial blasphemy law.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has taken “serious notice” of the incident and called for a report from the Ministry of Interior.
Dr Nafisa Shah, central coordinator of PPP’s human rights cell, also issued a statement expressing concern over the girl’s arrest and termed it “a glaring example” of misuse of the blasphemy law.
Presidency’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Khan Babar quoted the president as saying that blasphemy by anyone could not be condoned but no one would be allowed to misuse blasphemy law for settling personal scores.
According to Mr Babar, the president called for a report within 24 hours, directed the authorities to protect the life and property of everyone and said no-one should be allowed to take the law in his own hands.
The president called for protecting everyone, particularly the vulnerable sections of society, from any misuse of the blasphemy law.
Nafisa Shah called upon the Islamabad administration to immediately take measures to solve the problem. She said the administration should have investigated the matter before detaining the 11-year-old girl.
“All political parties and religious leaders must come together to find a solution to this issue which is creating insecurity among the minorities,” she said, adding that “it is important to build consensus and recognise that there is a need to find ways to prevent such incidents where poor and disadvantaged communities are falsely charged.”
The PPP human rights cell proposed that in such an event, the law must allow leaders of religious communities and district administration to jointly inquire into the matter before registration of a complaint and arrest.
Last week, a Christian girl living in a rural area in G-8 sector of Islamabad was arrested and sent to jail allegedly for desecrating pages which had some religious text. Police said some local people had reported to have seen the girl “moving suspiciously” in the area, carrying a shopping bag, and later they found some burnt papers.
During interrogation, the girl was not able to answer any question properly, but police quoted her as saying that she was taking the papers to a “safe place”. Police said the girl’s mental state was not stable as she suffered from Down syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes mental retardation and severe learning disabilities in children). A medical examination of the girl was carried out.
Although the president has stated that no one would be allowed to misuse the blasphemy law for settling personal scores, there has been no mention in the official statement if the PPP, which earlier called for amending the controversial law, intends to move any legislation in parliament to curb such practices.
In the past, when religious forces in the country had openly announced that they would resist any move to change the law, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US and former PPP MNA Sherry Rehman had submitted a private member’s bill in November 2010 seeking an end to the death penalty envisaged in the blasphemy laws.
While moving the bill Ms Rehman had stated that she believed that the blasphemy laws as set out in the Pakistan Penal Code found their roots in colonial laws and had in their present form become a source of victimisation and persecution of the minorities in the country.
The most important change the bill proposed was the abolition of the mandatory death penalty and life sentence under Section 295-C, introduced by former military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq.