On January 16, 2013, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its effort to gain popularity with the fundamentalists, has admitted a petition filed against Islamabad’s ambassador to the United States for committing blasphemy by demanding the withdrawal of the death sentence from the blasphemy laws.
The petition was filed by a business man from Multan. Mr. Faheem Akhtar Gill was infuriated after watching an interview of Mrs. Rehman and tried to lodge a case against her for committing blasphemy with the police. When, initially the police refused to accept the case he filed cases on different occasions in a session court and then finally in the Lahore High Court where the judges also rejected his plea.
However the Supreme Court (SC) has taken up Gill’s petition against Rehman for regular hearing and asked the police to conduct enquiries into the charges of her having committing blasphemy and report back to the Supreme Court. This creates doubts that the Supreme Court is, in fact, trying to influence the police to ‘find’ something against another ambassador to the USA.
There was no outcry within the country against Ambassador Rehman with regard to her comments but the Supreme Court without any concrete evidence has taken up the petition for hearing and again transferred it to the police for enquiry. In the initial stage the police already rejected the application of the petitioner as they did not find any concrete evidence of her having committed blasphemy. The question begs to be asked that if the police did not find any evidence before how it might be possible that it suddenly exists now.
Mrs Rehman is the second ambassador to the USA who has been made a target by the Supreme Court on hearsay allegations. The former ambassador was tried by the Supreme Court on the urging of the military. Mr. Hussain Haqqani, was tried in the Supreme Court and also in a judicial commission on the complaint of a US citizen who was known to be working against Pakistan in America. Haqqani was not given a fair trial because the Pakistan army wanted to punish him.
Mrs. Rehman, as a member of parliament in 2010, in an interview with a private TV channel, the Dunya News, proposed legislation to remove the death penalty from Section 295 (C) (the Blasphemy Law) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which says “Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine”.
Mrs. Rehman has been a critic of the controversial laws, which have been widely condemned by rights organizations and deemed discriminatory. In November, 2010, Rehman submitted a bill to parliament seeking to reform the blasphemy laws and an end to capital punishment. Rehman has since faced death threats from Islamist militants. She dropped her efforts after facing resistance from her own party.
The continuance of the Supreme Court intervening in every complaint and investigation as long as it is motivated and against the ruling party in the Parliament is very alarming. By making its bias known in the orders and judgments so obvious, these orders become open to the question of their validity in law. The Constitution provides for the implementation of the judgments, orders and decrees passed by the Courts; but does it allow for the implementation of orders which may be null and void due to the profound bias and prejudice imbibed in them.
The law of blasphemy is already a contentious and sensitive issue. Even if for a moment the interview given by Sherry Rehman to a TV Channel is taken up she did not utter any blasphemous statement. She had discussed a law and the streamlining of that particular law; every law requires a procedure to be adopted, especially if it is open to gross misuse, which is amply proven by the track record of how the blasphemy law was used by former military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, in silencing protests to his draconian policies. It is now being used by individuals to settle personal scores, to illegally appropriate property, etc. That law is a law enforced by a dictator. It is not a divine law. Are the Courts now going to give a divine status to a dictator? The latest order coming out of the Supreme Court adds a lot of substance to the criticism of the blasphemy law, that it was created for settling the political agenda of Zia ul Haq, and this is exactly what a retrogressive court of ultimate jurisdiction is proving.