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Senate ‘Committee of Whole’ takes up issues in missing persons and preventing misuse of blasphemy law

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Islamabad December 22, 2105: The Senate meeting today as Committee of the Whole to finalize report on speedy and inexpensive justice unanimously decided on measures to address the issue of missing persons as well to initiate a broad conversation with religious scholars and stake holders on how to prevent the misuse the blasphemy law.

The decisions were taken in the meeting today which took up the draft report as well as over thirty proposals submitted separately by Senators Farhatullah Babar of PPP, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah of PML-F and Azam Swati of PTI.

Chairman Raza Rabbani presided over the meeting that was attended by some 25 senators representing various political parties.

Senator Farhatullah Babar made eight proposals ranging from legislation to a bring the state agencies under the ambit of the law, preventing misuse of blasphemy law, streamlining the exercise of suo moto powers, revisiting the procedure of appointment of judges, doing away with the appointment of ad-hoc judges, re-examination of policing laws in the provinces and institution of web based scheme for filing FIRs.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said that missing persons was one section of the society which could not access any justice, “no matter how expensive and how slow” it may be. He said that the need for legislation had been voiced in the SC during hearing in cases as well as recommended in the report of the Commission on Enforced Disappearance. He said that sometime the human rights of committee of the senate had given a set of recommendations including draft legislation to rein in the agencies and asked for its implementation.

The Committee decided to ask the government for progress on the 2013 report of the human rights committee. It also decided to make a special sub-chapter on missing persons in its final report. It proposed that constitutionalism and human rights be taught as compulsory subjects in security institutions to sensitize them.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the blasphemy law had been grossly misused against minorities and vulnerable sections of society and proposed appropriate legislation to prevent this misuse. He also referred to the SC verdict of October 7, 2015 and said that this could form the basis for action by parliament. A number of senators including opposition leader Chaudhry Aitzaz and NP President Hasil Bizenjo also supported the suggestion. The committee decided to broaden the conversation on blasphemy law in the light of the recent SC verdict and seek opinion of religious scholars and other stake holders on preventing misuse of the law.

Farhatullah Babar also proposed improvements in the exercise of suo motu powers. To ensure transparency, initiation of suo moto cases should be on an order by the chief justice in consultation with senior puisne judge together with a provision for appeal which should lie with another bench of the apex court.

The committee decided to recommend amendments in the SC rules to provide for appeal in suo moto cases. Chairman Raza Rabbani proposed that the power to initiate suo moto cases should vest in the CJP and not necessarily in ‘consultation with senior puisne judge’, to which the Committee agreed.

On his proposal for re-examination of policing laws in the provinces to enable a politically independent police force the committee observed that police was a provincial subject. However, it also decided to make recommendations to the provinces to re-examine their respective police laws to determine whether these enabled or hindered the development of a politically independent police force.

Consideration of proposals for developing web based system for filing of FIRs and action to prevent false and frivolous complaints were deferred.

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