The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), in a meeting on Wednesday, made recommendations addressing the issues of blasphemy laws, and the admissibility of DNA evidence in rape cases. The CII had previously been silent on the misuse of blasphemy laws, and had entirely rejected the use of DNA evidence to identify and convict rapists.
The misuse of blasphemy laws has been extensively documented by the local and international media; however, a reform to prevent the abuse has been a matter of easier said than done. Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for demanding review. The laws have been abused on countless occasions to target vulnerable minorities and settle personal scores. Persons accused of blasphemy, even if acquitted by the courts, are unable to return to their normal lives. They have to either relocate, or risk death at the hands of the conservative members of society.
CII, in an attempt to curb the menace, has suggested that a person found guilty of falsely accusing another of blasphemy, should be given the same punishment, the law reserves for a convicted blasphemer; a death penalty. Granted that the recommendation is the least the CII could have done, but if it acts as a deterrent and prevents victimisation of innocent citizens, then good enough for now.
Succumbing to the pressures and revealing sensitivity to the severe criticism from the civil society, the CII reached a decision to allow DNA testing to be used as “supplementary” evidence, while reiterating that four witnesses shall remain as the primary evidence mandatory for conviction in rape cases. It’s unlikely that the ‘concession’ by the CII will satisfy critics, who demand DNA testing to be given the status of primary evidence, rightly deeming it to be most reliable and, in line with the practice throughout the world.
It’s worth noticing that in the presence of a Federal Shariat Court and provisions in the constitution itself, which ensure that no legislation in contradiction with Sharia can be passed by the Parliament, the CII is working parallel to the system.
The constitutional status of the Islamic body needs to be reviewed. In 1997 and 2010, there were attempts to abolish the body altogether. The ministry of law claimed that according to the constitution, CII had completed its mandate in 1996, which was entrusted to it in 1973. But, following the sacred tradition which is the cornerstone of our political system, a compromise was reached. CII's recommendations for the blasphemy law are a step in the right direction. The continued inadmissibility of DNA and primary evidence in rape cases shows the CII still has a long way to go to prove it is attuned to, and equipped to, deal with the challenges of today.