Senate panel slams ‘misuse’ of blasphemy law against PTI

    Condemning the alleged misuse and weaponisation of religion in politics, a Senate panel on Monday urged utmost care in the handling of blasphemy cases registered against PTI supporters over the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident.

    The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, which met here with Senator Walid Iqbal in the chair, to take cognisance of the registration of FIRs over the sloganeering against Pakistan’s official delegation during their pilgrimage to Masjid-i-Nabwi.

    Following the incident in question, a couple of FIRs were registered against PTI chairman Imran Khan and some other party leaders, including MNA Rashid Shafique, who was arrested and jailed. However, he was released on Monday on bail.

    The committee chairman said it was unfortunate that the incident of sloganeering took place in Saudi Arabia but cases were registered here in Pakistan against political leaders.

    During the meeting, a council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) strongly condemned the fake and frivolous accusation of blasphemy being used for political victimisation and termed it among the first few examples where the law was being used for political scoring.

    HRCP’s Nasreen Azhar said that an apology, if such an incident has occurred at the Masjid-i-Nabwi, is more appropriate than filing an FIR, as that would not provoke the sentiments of the general public.

    Representatives from various institutions also exchanged views on the measures to eliminate the misuse of the blasphemy law and suggested that amendments be made to the law to discourage such accusations. The committee was informed that 580 cases under accusation of blasphemy were filed last year, which is an increase of 100 per cent.

    A police working paper, which was presented before the committee, stated that FIRs were registered under sections 295, 295A, and 296 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) involving offences related to blasphemy laws. The police said that FIRs were registered under section 4 of the PPC, which states that any offence committed by any citizen of Pakistan or any place outside and beyond Pakistan is subject to FIR.

    At the meeting, Federal Minister for Human Rights Riaz Hussain Pirzada said that former prime minister Imran Khan is rightly saying that his life is in danger after the blasphemy charges.

    He urged the chairman of the committee not to highlight this issue too much and to keep it low profile, for the safety of the accused. Senator Kamran Michael also condemned the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country, stating that the committee should not only highlight the issues of those who are nominated in the two FIRs, but this is the time to take up the issues of all those people in this country who have faced or are facing allegations of blasphemy.

    Earlier, officials from the Ministry of Interior suggested that the committee give directions to refer the matter to the Foreign Office through Pakistan’s mission in Saudi Arabia, to obtain clarity on the matter.

    During the course of the meeting, officers of Punjab Police informed the committee that two FIRs, one each in Faisalabad and Attock, were registered in connection with the Madina incident.

    The committee chairman sought more details on the data and statistics of the FIRs registered at the next meeting. The Faisalabad administration assured the committee that further investigation into the matter of FIRs would be dealt with in accordance with the law and with considerable care. The Senate committee decided to seek further details and postpone the matter till the next meeting, to be held on May 16.

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