ISLAMABAD: The head of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Muhammad Khan Sherani, on Thursday said he is willing to review blasphemy laws – that critics say are regularly misused and have led to the deaths of hundreds – to decide if they are Islamic.
The CII is a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam.
Religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism in relation to Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.
Sherani told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.
“The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue,” Sherani said in an interview at his office close to the Parliament in Islamabad.
“Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened,” Sherani, dressed in a traditional black robe, said.
Sherani, who has hit the headlines in recent weeks after his council obstructed a bill to deter child marriages, did not disclose his own position.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws mandate the death penalty, although no sentence has been carried out. Critics say the law is abused in poor, rural areas by people falsely accusing rivals in order to settle personal scores.
Presenting evidence in court can be considered a new infringement, so judges are reluctant to hear cases.
Those acquitted have often been lynched.
Salman Taseer, a prominent liberal politician, was killed by his own bodyguard in 2011 after he had championed the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death under the law.