Pakistan Expands Scope Of Draconian Blasphemy Law

Pakistan Expands Scope Of Draconian Blasphemy Law
The National Assembly approved legislation on Tuesday to increasing the punishment for those defaming Ummahatul Momineen (wives of the Holy Prophet PBUH, 'mothers of the faithful'), Ahl-e-Bait (members of the Holy Prophet's PBUH household), Khulafa-e-Rashideen (the four 'righteous' caliphs of Islam) and Sahaba-e-Karaam (companions of the Holy Prophet PBUH) up to 'life imprisonment' and not less than ten years' rigorous imprisonment.

The lower house unanimously passed a private member's bill, moved by the solitary parliamentarian of the religio-political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, on private members' day. After it sailed smoothly past the National Assembly, this bill that provides for amendments in certain sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) will be referred to the Senate for its consideration.

The punishment for a person proven guilty of disrespecting Ummahatul Momineen, Ahl-e-Bait, Khulafa-e-Rashideen or Sahaba-e-Karaam, and/or using derogatory remarks for them, would be ten years in prison which may be extended to life imprisonment "depending on seriousness of the crime", according to the proposed amendments in the law.

The bill's proposer Abdul Akbar Chitrali appreciated the house for increasing the punishment. He said the punishment for disrespecting these sacred religious personalities was "almost nil" before the legislation on it. Chairing the session, deputy speaker Zahid Akram Durrani termed passage of the bill "historic" and congratulated all parliamentarians present. He said that implementation of the law would help prevent the heinous crime of blasphemy in the country.

In section 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, the punishment against the person who disrespects the wives, family and Companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), is imprisonment for a minimum of three years period along with a nominal penalty while this is a bailable crime. Due to this "simple punishment", the criminals commit the same crime again and again in spite of the punishment. Chitrali argued that due to such simple punishments, people tried to punish criminals on their own, which led to mob violence and vigilante 'justice'.

The punishment under section 381 of PPC is rigorous imprisonment for ten years, which has been incorporated as a minor punishment to be given to those who defame Ummahat-ul-Momineen, Ahl-e-Bait, Khulafa-e-Rashideen and Sahaba-e-Karaam, in terms of the provisions in section 298-A of PPC.