Time to Repeal the Hudood Ordinances

The attack on the Christian community in Gojra is now being condemned by everybody. There was hardly anyone to defend the helpless victims at the time of attack.

By Anees Jillani (Pakistan)

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Published: Tue 25 Aug 2009, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:47 AM

However, now that the issue has been taken up by the higher functionaries, all feel comfortable opposing it. The blasphemy law is not directly related to the incident as it could have taken place even without the law, but it is an opportune time to get Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code either repealed, or at least drastically amended. The federal government, however, appears reluctant to do anything with it, except to pay lip service for its repeal. It is nothing short of ironical that the People’s Party is very vocal while opposing such draconian laws when in opposition, but fails to do anything when in power. We all have experienced it during the past two tenures of Benazir Bhutto, and are witnessing it since March last year.

Section 295-C is a legacy of General Ziaul Haq, just like the Hudood Ordinances. There is hardly anybody left in the country who has anything nice to say about General Zia or his 11-year-rule. However, his legacy continues: in the shape of Afghan Mujahideen, Kalashnikov or heroin culture, thousands of madressahs, influence of religious forces in our polity, the Hudood Ordinance, blasphemy laws, and many other similar features.

The present PPP government may be helpless in fighting the Kalashnikov and heroin cultures, but the least it can do is to amend the blasphemy law, and repeal altogether the Hudood Ordinances. Section 295-C was inserted in October 1986, following a controversial remark made by Asma Jehangir in Islamabad. The insertion makes death penalty mandatory for any derogatory remarks made in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

The original amendment also had an option to provide for imprisonment for life in the case of such an offense; however, this option was deleted through an order of the Federal Shariat Court.

This law is criticised for this mandatory provision, and for failing to provide a mechanism for filing such cases. Resultantly, the law is constantly being misused by unscrupulous elements to blackmail, and get in trouble, their opponents. And they have succeeded in doing this to a large extent.

The Hudood Ordinances are no different. A total of five ordinances were introduced in February 1979, dealing with Property Offenses; Zina; Qazf; Prohibition on Drinking; and Whipping. These laws should be seen in the context of the period during which they were introduced. The country was going through one of the worst dictatorial periods in its history; and General Zia was using almost every trick of the trade to divert public attention from the imminent execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The introduction of the Hudood laws was brought in to show the military regime’s resolve to introduce an Islamic system. Like other legislations, these laws also failed to curb the offenses they were directed against.

Today, drinking continues unabated; adultery, fornication and infidelity persists; and offenses in relation to property and persons are on the rise. The number of prostitutes has increased, and the ones from Pakistan flood the markets in the Gulf. The Hudood laws are obviously not the remedy to these ills afflicting almost every society in the world, and all we have seen so far are thousands of innocent men and women languishing in the prisons all over Pakistan charged under these confusingly drafted laws.

The co-chairman of the PPP is the President of the country, and the Party, along with its allies ANP and the MQM, has a comfortable majority in both houses of the Parliament, and a PPP leader leads the government. What is then stopping the People’s Party from repealing all the five Hudood laws, and amend the blasphemy law.

If shy of going to the Parliament for some bizarre reason, the party can simply repeal them through the President’s power to legislate through an Ordinance, which remains in force for 120 days at a time, and which period can continuously be extended.

The Nawaz Sharif government kept extending the ordinance dealing with Diyat for more than four years in such a fashion, and the Supreme Court upheld this manner of extension. It is all a question of showing the political resolve to undertake such a step. It is easy to make speeches, and indulge in rhetoric, but legislative work entails a little bit of thinking and hard work. The first Benazir Bhutto government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in August 1990, and one of the charges against it was complete absence of any legislation; in 20 months of its rule, the Benazir government only passed the Finance Act 1989, which was indispensable for the passage of the annual federal budget. One hopes that the record of the present government would be slightly better than the previous ones in this respect.

The PPP government has currently no enemies in the country, but none of its friends admire it either for its performance.

Anees Jillani is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and can be reached at aJ@Jillani.org

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