|'The committee would debate whether life imprisonment is an adequate|
punishment instead of the mandatory death penalty.'
A Pakistani Senate committee is set to debate how to prevent the country's blasphemy laws being applied unfairly, despite opposition from religious conservatives who support legislation that carries a mandatory death penalty for insulting Islam.
Senator Farhatullah Babar told Reuters that the Senate Committee on Human Rights, of which he is a member, will start discussions on blasphemy laws as early as next week, based on recommendations from a 24-year-old report. He said it would be the 1st time in decades that any parliamentary body had considered a formal proposal to stop the abuse of the blasphemy laws.
According to Babar, the committee would consider a proposal making it binding to investigate complaints before registering a case, to ensure "genuine blasphemy" had been committed and the law was not being used to settle scores, as critics say it is. He also said the committee would debate whether life imprisonment was an adequate punishment [Are you serious? - DPN], instead of the mandatory death penalty.
Many conservatives in Pakistan consider even criticizing the laws as blasphemy, and in 2011 Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab Province, was assassinated by his bodyguard after calling for reform of the laws. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri ,was hailed as a hero by religious hardliners, and tens of thousands of supporters attended his funeral after he was executed last year. A shrine has been built over his grave.
A Christian woman, Asia Bibi, is in jail for 7 years on charges of blasphemy. She was sentenced to hang in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim women which began over a cup of water. She denies the charge.
Pakistan's Supreme Court adjourned her death row appeal on October 13 last year, after 1 of the 3 judges recused himself from the case.
Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Muslim politician Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, were both assassinated in 2011 for advocating on her behalf and opposing the blasphemy laws.
Hundreds of Pakistanis are on death row for blasphemy convictions, and at least 65 people, including lawyers, defendants and judges, have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies based in the capital Islamabad.
Pakistan's religious and political elites almost universally steer clear of speaking against blasphemy laws, but a small group of lawmakers has been looking for ways to reduce abuses. However, powerful religious conservatives who have millions of followers strongly support the laws.
Last week, Pakistani police arrested 150 hardline activists rallying in support of the blasphemy laws on the anniversary of the assassination of Taseer. Police have also resisted a demand by hardliners to register a blasphemy case against Shaan Taseer, the slain governor's son, over a Christmas message calling for prayers for those charged under the "inhumane" legislation.
Source: Vatican Radio, January 15, 2017
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