Misusing blasphemy laws

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Totally unnecessary statements by certain quarters, keen to stand up and be counted, have created complications for Aasia, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, instead of helping her. A number of Muslim religious parties, in search of a cause, have taken to the streets threatening to unloose anarchy if the woman was to be pardoned. A presidential spokesman has, meanwhile, maintained that no papers for pardon have so far been received by the Presidency.

The sentence against Aasia was passed by a sessions court and she has yet to exercise her right to appeal to the High Court. If sentenced again, she can go to Supreme Court if there is a point of law that can provide relief to her. Finally, she can apply for Presidential pardon. Aasia holds that the case was registered on grounds of personal enmity and the FIR was concocted and malafide. A report prepared by Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti corroborates her stand. In case this is true, Aasia has a chance to get the sentence altogether remitted or modified when the case is taken up by the Lahore High Court. It is widely known that most of those convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan have their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal to the superior courts.

That the government is in no hurry to issue a pardon should be clear from the statement by the presidents spokesman. It is, however, not unusual in Pakistan for political elements to use religious issues for short term gains. As things stand, there are a number of political parties with little electoral following who can use the issue to vilify both the government and the opposition. It goes to the credit of the mainstream parties that they have acted responsibly. There is a need on the part of the ulema also to act with poise. The country cannot afford an anarchic situation. What is required on the part of all stakeholders is not to say or do anything that can be construed as an attempt to pressurise the judiciary either way. Meanwhile, the lawmakers should amend the blasphemy law in a manner that it is not possible to misuse it for settling personal accounts.