'Blasphemy' Laws Should Be Repealed, Not Changed, Says Director

While some have asked for changes to be made to the controversial blasphemy law and Hudood ordinance, many others have called for their repeal.
( [email protected] ) Aug 19, 2004 05:55 PM EDT

While the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) recently called on Pakistan to change its controversial blasphemy laws, another human rights organization, the Pakistani Commission of Peace and Human Development (CPHD), has rejected suggested changes to the Hudood and blasphemy laws being considered by the National Assembly to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.. In a statement issued on Monday, CPHD Executive Director Waseem Anthony said the changes would not insure that the laws were not being abused.

The Hudood Ordinance, enacted in 1979, is claimed to be based on Muslim Sharia (Islamic law), however it has reportedly been misused in many cases against women and seen as discriminatory.

According the Pakistani Daily Time, Anthony said that the abuse of the law was evident from the fact that superior courts had acquitted 95 percent of women accused in Hudood cases. In 1979, there were only 70 women in prisons all over Pakistan. By 1988, this figure was 6,000. Anthony stated that the number of prosecutions under the Zina ordinance--which criminalizes extramarital sexual relations—not only multiplied, they became a majority of cases against women.

Quoting a Federal Shariat Court observation, Anthony said, “We are constrained to make observations that such reckless allegations are brought so frequently that something should be done to stop this unhealthy practice.”

However, Anthony said that changing the Hudood laws by confining investigation of ‘zina’ cases would not give relief to women. The only solution to prevent abuse of the laws is to repeal them altogether, he said.

The majority of a 17-member committee appointed by the National Commission on the Status of Women, headed by retired High Court Judge Majida Rizvi and consisting of Council of Islamic Ideology members, religious scholars, lawyers and retired judges, also recommended that the Hudood laws be repealed, said Anthony. He added that most of the committee members said the laws were full of loopholes and anomalies. “They were the view that with so many flaws in the laws, it would be impossible to correct them.” So they concluded that the laws should be repealed.

The CPHD director said that legal and religious experts believed that the laws did not fulfill the criteria of justice under national, international or religious law.

Anthony also said that the blasphemy law was also being abused and should be repealed. Under the controversial blasphemy law, which has been in force since 1986, an alleged defamation of Islam or the prophet Mohammed may be punished with the death sentence. Many non-Muslims, especially Christians, have been indicted and convicted, and the law is often abused as a means of private revenge, reported the Germany-based International Society for Human Rights.

According to a statement made by federal minister Ijazul Haq during a televised broadcast, the number of blasphemy cases had increased many times over since the introduction of the blasphemy law. From 1947 to 1982, there were only nine cases registered. But after the introduction of the blasphemy law in 1982, 4,000 cases had been registered.