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Thursday, 26 September 2013

BPCA sceptical of alleged Pakistani Blasphemy law reforms?

Tahir Ashrafi (left) along with other senior Islamic clerics
In Pakistan, the constitution has a large role for a body of Islamic scholars called the Council of Islamic Ideology, who, for example, can veto 'un-Islamic' laws passed by the legislature / the executive branch.  They have been rigid and staunch supporters of the horrific and medieval Islamic 'Hudood' and blasphemy laws that so blight Pakistani public life and the justice system.

They are now allegedly calling for 'reform'.  It turns out to be not so much of a reform of the laws as an addition that might do some good, but could backfire.  You can still be killed for 'blasphemy', or suffer long imprisonment, and the laws still are very biased against minorities, but the proposed addition is aimed at stopping the abuse of blasphemy laws by accusing people as a weapon in personal disputes.  The new law, which has echos of the laws in the Old Testament aimed at preventing abuse of the justice system, says that anyone falsely accusing someone of blasphemy can be executed - can suffer the same fate that they would have forced on another if the alleged blasphemers had been convicted.  Whilst this may seem a step in the right direction, BPCA chairman Wilson Chowdhry still has his doubts.

This does nothing to rectify the double standards of Sharia influenced Pakistani law.  If a woman or a non-Muslim citizen is accused of blasphemy by a Muslim, and they try and use this proposed law, they still face the fact that their testimony is worth half that of a Muslim man.  For a Christian woman facing such a false allegation, their position is worse, since their testimony is deemed worth a quarter of that of a Muslim man.  The bias against Christians and other faith minorities still remains embedded in both Pakistani law in practise and Pakistani society.  The BPCA still maintains that if abolishing of these laws is not a possible option, the only right way to have then stay on the books is to go back to the original British blasphemy laws which applied to all faiths equally, and had tightly restricted punishments and application.  

The true motivation of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) was made clear when prominent and wily member Tahir Ashrafi, who has turned out to be adept at manipulating media to try and appear moderate whilst still essentially supporting pretty extremist positions, stated that as well as aiming to end the use of blasphemy allegations in personal disputes, this change is meant to silence the critics of the blasphemy laws.  He also tried to attach this measure to the martyrs who were martyred by Ashrafi's fellow extremists for opposing the blasphemy laws by saying 'I dedicate this effort to all those, including Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who have fought for righteousness'.  We at the BPCA are reminded Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees when he said

'What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’

“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgement of hell?'

Although in the case of Ashrafi and his crew, they are doing this not in later generations but a couple of years after the murders they know seek to use to entrench the very practise that these martyrs were slain for opposing.

We have news for you, Mr Ashrafi.  These proposed changes will not silence us.  The blasphemy laws will still be a medieval barbarity that cause untold devastation and are intrinsically unjust and discriminatory.   We also suspect that it will do little to end the lynching of those accused of blasphemy.  We shall see.  Maybe it will have a positive effect, but it will not be enough.

However, the CII finally just about made it into the 20th Century over the issue of the use of DNA in rape cases.  They now apparently approve the use of DNA as primary evidence in rape cases....    Sort of.  There are plenty of loopholes.  Judges can admit such evidence depending on the circumstances and conditions.  There had been huge opposition to such a change, with many CII members only wanting DNA allowed as secondary evidence if the accused did not accept the testimony of four male Muslim witnesses required by Islamic law to prove a rape case.  Supporters say these changes are coming through because the 'moderate' Ashrafi and some other new members are overcoming the 'hardline' older members of the CII (although these are all relative terms).  Legal and human rights groups in Pakistan, however, are unsurprisingly, not so impressed.....

Sources : 1 and 2.

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