Will­ing to re­view blas­phemy laws, says CII chief

The Pak Banker - - NATIONAL -

The head of the Coun­cil of Is­lamic Ide­ol­ogy ( CII), Muham­mad Khan Sherani, on Thurs­day said he is will­ing to re­view blas­phemy laws - that crit­ics say are reg­u­larly mis­used and have led to the deaths of hun­dreds - to de­cide if they are Is­lamic. The CII is a con­sti­tu­tional body that ad­vises the leg­is­la­ture whether or not a cer­tain law is re­pug­nant to Is­lam.

Religious and political elites al­most uni­ver­sally keep clear of de­bat­ing blas­phemy laws in a coun­try where crit­i­cism in re­la­tion to Is­lam is a highly sen­si­tive sub­ject. Even ru­mours of blas­phemy have sparked ram­pag­ing mobs and deadly ri­ots. Sherani told Reuters he was will­ing to re­open the de­bate and see whether sen­tences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.

"The govern­ment of Pak­istan should of­fi­cially, at the govern­ment level, re­fer the law on com­mit­ting blas­phemy to the Coun­cil of Is­lamic Ide­ol­ogy. There is a lot of dif­fer­ence of opin­ion among the clergy on this is­sue," Sherani said in an in­ter­view at his of­fice close to the Par­lia­ment in Is­lam­abad. "Then the coun­cil can se­ri­ously con­sider things and give its rec­om­men­da­tion of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hard­ened or if it needs to be soft­ened," Sherani, dressed in a tra­di­tional black robe, said.

Sherani, who has hit the head­lines in re­cent weeks af­ter his coun­cil ob­structed a bill to de­ter child mar­riages, did not dis­close his own po­si­tion. Pak­istan's blas­phemy laws man­date the death penalty, al­though no sen­tence has been car­ried out. Crit­ics say the law is abused in poor, ru­ral ar­eas by peo­ple falsely ac­cus­ing ri­vals in or­der to set­tle per­sonal scores.

Pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence in court can be con­sid­ered a new in­fringe­ment, so judges are re­luc­tant to hear cases. Those ac­quit­ted have of­ten been lynched. Sal­man Taseer, a prom­i­nent lib­eral politi­cian, was killed by his own body­guard in 2011 af­ter he had cham­pi­oned the cause of a Chris­tian woman sen­tenced to death un­der the law. Sherani, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment rep­re­sent­ing the Jamiat Ulema-i-Is­lam - Fazl, for some em­bod­ies the coun­try's strug­gle to bal­ance mod­ern, demo­cratic ideals with pleas­ing con­ser­va­tive religious bod­ies de­mand­ing the im­po­si­tion of strict Is­lamic law.

In re­cent years, his 54-year old coun­cil has ruled DNA can­not be used as pri­mary ev­i­dence in rape cases, and sup­ported a law that re­quires a woman al­leg­ing rape to get four male wit­nesses to tes­tify in court be­fore a case is heard. His mem­bers' de­ci­sion this month to block a bill to im­pose harsher penal­ties for mar­ry­ing off girls as young as eight or nine has an­gered hu­man rights ac­tivists. Sen­a­tors have since de­bated whether the coun­cil, in its cur­rent form, is right for the mod­ern demo­cratic Pak­istan that Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has said his coun­try must rep­re­sent. Sherani, head of the coun­cil since 2010, de­fended its rec­om­men­da­tions, say­ing it was his job, as man­dated by the Con­sti­tu­tion, to en­sure the laws of the land were in line with Is­lam.

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