ISLAMABAD -  The Senate Human Rights Committee yesterday decided to carry forward debate on blasphemy law in the light of a 1991 Senate report, which had made some critical recommendations about the law.

The decision was taken after Senator Farhatullah Babar revealed details of the 1991 report and suggested that it should be made the starting point for further discussion so as to suggest ways and means to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law .

However, Committee Chairperson Senator Nasreen Jalil made it clear that the committee did not want to amend the blasphemy law at all but was only considering making its implementation process more effective.

Federal Minister for Human Rights, Kamran Michael argued before the committee that no action was taken against those who levelled wrong allegations of blasphemy against innocent persons and gave reference of the Rimsha Masih case.

JUI-F Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar viewed that the committee should not deliberate upon the law, as it was a sensitive matter.

PPP Senator Babar disclosed that quarter of a century ago the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991 seeking mandatory death penalty for blasphemy was introduced in the Senate on November 4, 1991. The bill was promptly referred to the standing committee on law and justice on that day, he said.

He said that the Law and Justice Committee then was headed by Raja Zafarul Haq, present leader of the house in the Senate, and included Yahya Bakhtiar, former attorney general among others.

In its report, the committee observed that there was need for a more specific definition of the offence under section 295 PPC (blasphemy) because in the words of the committee itself "in its present form was very generalised".

According to the report, the committee also asked as to what punishment was given for blasphemy during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) or during the lifetime of four Caliphs or afterwards, and in other Muslim countries, he said.

While raising these questions, the report however is silent on whether it approved or disapproved the proposed amendment in the law, he said.

The committee also discussed Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 and the representative of Human Rights Ministry informed the meeting that three provinces - Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan - had authorised the federal government to legislate about Hindu marriages.

The committee decided that the lawmakers, both from Senate and National Assembly, should also look into the bill before its finalisation.

MQM Senator Nasreen Jalil presided over the meeting while senators Sitara Ayaz, Nisar Muhammad Khan, Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Mohsin Leghari, Mufti Abdul Sattar, Samina Abid and Farhatullah Babar attended the meeting.

Later talking to the media, Senator Babar said that according to the official report of the 36th session of the Senate on Feb 20, 1992, the committee chairman Raja Zafarul Haq moved that the delay in the presentation of the report be condoned was granted and the motion was adopted on that day. According to the record it only annexed the bill with its report raising questions and did not endorse the Amendment Bill, he said.

He said it was a mystery how and why the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991 was passed despite the fact that the relevant committee had sought some clarification and had not approved it.

Babar said that the report of the committee remained untraceable for a long time. He said he was alerted to it by I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and that is how he started searching for it and was finally able to locate it.

He said that a critical re-examination of the 295-C is needed, particularly because this provision also did not enjoy the unanimous support of the Islamic scholars.

Giving historical background, he said that the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) in October 1990 ruled on a petition filed by one Ismail Qureshi that the alternate punishment of life imprisonment for blasphemy was repugnant to Islam and should be deleted.

The FSC also directed to add a clause that any act of blasphemy of other prophets should also be punishable with death and that section 295-C should be amended by April 30, 1991. However, this was also not done.

Senator Babar said that the Supreme Court also recently ruled that discussion on blasphemy law and pointing out how to prevent its misuse was not blasphemy. This verdict together with the disclosure about the Senate committee's report provides a good starting point for a robust and informed debate, he added.