Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The solution to misuse of blasphemy laws is not better ones

Prior to becoming a member of Pakistan’s parliament and a government minister responsible for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti was the human rights activist, leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, campaigning for the rights of religious minorities. I met with him a few times in my office over the years and he was always clear in his desire to see Pakistan's blasphemy law repealed.  He stated, correctly, that it violated the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Article 25 of the Pakistani Constitution.  There was no talk of it needing to be improved or less onerous.  He understood clearly that blasphemy laws are bad laws and should be abolished. Plain and simple. And he went on record saying so, often and loudly, even promising as much as a cabinet minister as late as last January.

How things have changed.  Sadly, Mr. Bhatti has softened his views from those he held in the past, saying in an interview this week with the National that the blasphemy law introduced in 1986 by General Zia-ul-Haq, the former military dictator, was flawed and needed to be reviewed and amended. 

Amended??  This is not the message that Shahbaz Bhatti proclaimed when he was not a part of the government of Pakistan.  Now, rather than talking about abolishing this draconian law (a phrase he used to like to use), he says, "My opinion is that this law needs to be reviewed and after that suitable amendments should be made so that nobody can use it as an instrument to victimise or terrorise other people or falsely accuse someone.”

If experience in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world teaches us anything about blasphemy laws is that the solution to their misuse is not better blasphemy laws but no blasphemy laws.

You understood that once, too, Mr. Bhatti.  I understand the pressures that are on you.  But please show us that you are more than a politician who believes that politics is merely the art of the possible.

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