President Zardari Calls for Review of Blasphemy Laws

President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, called for a full review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and necessary action taken to protect the rights of religious minorities reports the English-language daily Dawn.

MPA Pitanbar Sewani, speaking at the meeting on ‘Communities vulnerable because of their beliefs’, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the president had responded to a point raised by him during a meeting held at the Sindh Chief Minister’s House.

He said he had raised the issue with the president that the blasphemy law was being misused and was a cause of harassment to the minorities and that it might be amended.

He said the president said: “The federal government may examine it and take necessary action.” And that action on this was to be taken by the federal law minister.

President Zardari has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities during his two-year tenure. Speaking on ‘Minorities Day’ in August, President Zardari reminded people of the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s minorities and their vital role in founding and building the nation.

“The Quaid’s vision is contained in his historic speech on this day in 1947 that laid down the foundations of a modern, tolerant and progressive Pakistan in which everyone will have equal rights regardless of creed and gender.”

In his 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, stated that, “the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.” He went on to express a vision of Pakistan’s future in which “all these angularities of the majority and minority communities…will vanish,” and made clear his belief that Pakistan was founded on the principle that “there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another.”

President Zardari’s call for a review of the blasphemy laws and the protection of religious minorities demonstrates a courageous political move amidst increasingly violent threats from Pakistan’s right-wing religious lobby. That his call to action is a reflection of the vision of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah is not lost on the world community, and we fully support President Zardari’s move to protect the rights all of Pakistan’s citizens equally under the law.

5 thoughts on “President Zardari Calls for Review of Blasphemy Laws

  1. This latest news gives a new urgency to the problem. It is imperetive that the law needs rewiew

    By ASHRAF KHAN

    The Associated Press
    Sunday, December 12, 2010; 9:40 AM

    KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities have arrested a doctor on suspicion of violating the country’s contentious blasphemy law by throwing away a business card of a man who shared the name of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, police said Sunday.

    The blasphemy law has been widely criticized by human rights groups following the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last month for insulting Islam. Critics say the law should be amended or repealed because it is often used to settle grudges, persecute minorities and fan religious extremism.

    Naushad Valiyani, a Muslim doctor in the southern city of Hyderabad, was arrested Friday after a complaint was lodged with police alleging his actions had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, said regional police chief Mushtaq Shah.
    The case began Friday when Muhammad Faizan, a pharmaceutical company representative, visited Valiyani’s clinic and handed out his business card. He said when the doctor threw the card away, Faizan went to police and filed a complaint that noted his name was the same as the prophet’s.
    Shah said police were investigating whether Valiyani should be charged with blasphemy.
    Dozens of Pakistanis are sentenced to death each year under the blasphemy law, though most cases are thrown out by higher courts and no executions have been carried out. The law, however, is unlikely to be repealed because the government’s ruling party – largely secular – relies on the support of Islamist groups.
    Islamist political parties have recently demonstrated in support of the law and the sentence against Bibi. One hard-line cleric said if the government did not execute Bibi, his mosque would pay anyone who killed her $5,800.
    The family of Bibi – a mother of five – insists she was falsely accused over a personal dispute. There have been appeals from around the globe – including one from Pope Benedict XVI – to pardon her. But the government has said it is first waiting for a court ruling on her appeal.
    Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs has said the law is being examined to prevent widespread abuse.
    In other developments Sunday, militants fired mortars targeting a Shiite mosque in the Kurram tribal region but the shells landed in a nearby residential area, killing three children, said Jamil Hussain, a local administrator. Seven people were wounded.

    Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

  2. Fundamentalism Malaise

    By Faisal Siddiqi

    We are plagued by the disease of fundamentalism. We, the much troubled Pakistani nation, have been forced fed all editions of fundamentalism i.e. religious, liberal, military and American imperialist versions of fundamentalism. This fundamentalist narrative of ‘I am the Truth’ has now infected the current debate about the Blasphemy Laws [specifically Sections 295-A, B & C, Pakistan Penal Code, 1860]. In one corner, we have the Islamic fundamentalists [i.e. constitutional fundamentalist like the Jamaat-e-Islami, J.U.I (F)], who want to retain or strengthen this law. In the other corner, the Liberal Fundamentalists, who want this law repealed or, at the least, radically reformed. Can this violent confrontation be avoided? And is there a non-fundamentalist way forward through which we can strike an appropriate balance?.

    This debate about the blasphemy laws was bound to be infected by fundamentalism because it is taking place either on the plane of ideology or hermeneutics/interpretation.

    According to the liberal fundamentalist, the present text of the blasphemy laws and its constant misuse make the law, in its current form, morally and ideologically unjust. Whereas, according to Islamic fundamentalist, this is God’s law and thus, morally and ideologically superior to any liberal ideology or argument. I am not a great fan of post-modern philosophical doctrine but its post-modern exponents are right in arguing that we live in a world of irreconcilable ideological conflict and this ideological conflict between the Islamist and liberal fundamentalist cannot be intellectually resolved. Therefore, the road to victory, for either side, doesnot lie on the ideological highway.

    But what about the hermeneutical/interpretational plane? The Islamist argue that there is a consensus among the Ulema that this blasphemy law is the correct interpretation of God’s law. The liberals object that there is no such consensus and the present text of these laws is not in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. Who will resolve this hermeneutical debate about authentic interpretation? What both classical and modern hermeneutical philosophers tell us is that the Islamic and liberal fundamentalist’s interpretation is just that – it is a human interpretation of a scared text and nothing more. In other words, no one has direct access to the religious text and no one claim un-refutable interpretation. Therefore, the hermeneutic road, for either side, will not lead to victory.

    But what is more important to us? The so-called principles of both the Islamist and liberals and their desire to please their respective audiences. Or, shouldn’t the central concern be the punishment of persons who maliciously violate these laws to cause religious conflict, as well as justice for the innocent victims of these laws?.

    Sadly, we are also infected by helplessness, cynicism and conflict and this leads to our failure to see the implied consensus among us on even these contentious issues. On this issue of blasphemy and its law, both the liberals and the Islamist agree on the following principles: (a) Any sane person who maliciously and deliberately commits blasphemy to cause religious conflict should be punished. (b) No innocent person should be tried and punished under the blasphemy laws. (c) The courts of law should decide these cases under the law without fear of the state or the public mob. (d) If any person has been declared innocent by the courts of laws, it is the duty of every person and institution to protect his/her life and liberty. (d) Even the guilty under these blasphemy laws have legal rights and they can only be punished by the courts and their sentences can only be executed in accordance with law. No private person or mob can be allowed to try, convict and punish any person.

    Further, both the Islamist and liberals may be surprised at the fact that both might also agree on the issue of reform. The liberals need to reform the blasphemy laws because of its misuse and its growing innocent victims. But the Islamist must also reform this law to strengthen this law because its misuse and its growing list of innocent victims might ultimately lead to its repeal. Therefore, my Islamic brothers, reform this law before the momentum for its repeal becomes unstoppable. In other words, if you oppose Sherry Rehman’s bill, why not bring your own bill to strengthen this law in a manner that it mutes criticism by controlling its misuse, and by humanizing it?

    But this is where the consensus ends and the hard work begins. The liberals and the Islamist will not agree on the text of the blasphemy law presented by either side. There is only one way to resolve this textual debate over the blasphemy law. A vote in the parliament of Pakistan. There are two main reasons for resolving this debate through Parliament. Firstly, it comprises of all shades of Pakistani opinion i.e. both the religious and liberal opinions are represented in parliament. Secondly, it is historically tested. Both the Islamic and liberals camps have resolved much tougher disputes [e.g. the consensus documents like the 1973, Constitution, and the 18th Amendment, Act] through parliament.

    The blasphemy law issue is a reflection of a potentially violent ideological warfare between the liberals and Islamist. Both sides should be conscious that the ultimate winners of this violent ideological warfare will be either the Taliban [i.e. militant non-constitutionalist] or Bonaparte Generals or American imperialism and each one of these victors considers both the liberals and constitutional Islamist as either kafirs, civilian fools or collateral damage. If either of these victors takes charge of Pakistan, there will nothing left of this country and we would all be blasphemous in the eyes of these victors from worldly hell.

  3. Would it be like the same thing if I were to remove this news item from my computer and send it to my trash bin.

    Would I be arrested? For trashing Mr. Faizan into the cyber trashbin?

  4. So Mr Muhammad Faizan is equating himself with the Prophet (PBUH)? Now we know who is truly the blasphemer. Mr Suhail I agree with you 100% this law is ridiculous and is only used to threaten and bully. It must be thrown into the trash bin along with Mr Faizan’s business cards.

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