Pakistan Passes Bill to Reduce Abuse of Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan’s national assembly has passed a bill aimed at reducing abuse of its harsh blasphemy laws
( [email protected] ) Oct 28, 2004 03:54 PM EDT

Pakistan’s national assembly has passed a bill aimed at reducing abuse of its harsh blasphemy laws. According to an Oct. 27 report by AFP, the amendment to the law will require senior police officials to investigate blasphemy allegations for substance before criminal charges are filed.

"This is a procedural change that is very important and this government will do it," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi told AFP.

"This will definitely reduce abuse [[of the law]."

For more than 20 years, the blasphemy laws have been widely misused and caused fear and suffering in the predominantly Muslim nation, as they only require the testimony of one Muslim man to bring charges against another person for blasphemy.

Although the purpose of the laws is to prevent the defamation of Islam and the prophet Mohammed, the laws have been used as a tool in disputes that have nothing to do with religion. One of the major complaints about the law is it is often misused to settle personal vendettas and arguments over property or money, particularly against the minority Christian community.

Many non-Muslims, especially Christians, have been indicted and convicted, and even Muslims themselves are affected by the legislation.

The Government’s move to reform these laws came after the killings of several Christians earlier this year, including Samuel Masih, accused of blasphemy, and Javed Anjum, murdered by Islamic fundamentalists at an Islamic school.

In the face of a growing international campaign for the repeal of the blasphemy laws, the Pakistani Government announced in July that it would introduce a new bill to revise these laws.

According to AFP, the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition, which has a sizeable presence in both houses of parliament, has opposed any changes to the law.

"We believe the procedure that exists is fine. The law applies equally to Muslims and non-Muslims," MMA deputy parliamentary leader Liaqat Baloch said.

On the other hand, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairman Tahir Muhammad Khan said the amendment was welcome, but inadequate.

"The procedural change will reduce misuse but the misuse will not stop," Khan said.

Similarly, in August, the Pakistani Commission of Peace and Human Development (CPHD) rejected suggested changes to the blasphemy laws stating that changes would not insure that the laws were not being abused. The CPHD said that the only solution to prevent abuse of the laws is to repeal them altogether.

As reported by AFP, the amendment to the law must still pass the Senate, where the government also has a majority.