Review: Storyville, The Accused: Damned or Devoted?

Review: Storyville, The Accused: Damned or Devoted?
The new documentary by BBC, The Accused: Damned or Devoted?,  directed by Ali Naqvi is a brilliant effort to highlight the way blasphemy laws are being misused in Pakistan. This BBC Storyville production follows the maverick cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, exploring the cases of those accused of disrespecting Islam, including Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who spent nearly 10 years on death row.

I watched this documentary with great interest for I have been a victim of false blasphemy allegations too. In this otherwise well-produced documentary, there are certain areas that could have been elaborated to enable the viewers to better understand the social fabric of Pakistan and dangers imposed by these laws.

Firstly, a little more on the background of the laws in Indian subcontinent would have helped a bit more to understand the mindset behind framing such laws. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad - founder of Ahmaddiya group, was a key-figure favouring such laws to be introduced and today, his followers are the prime targets of these draconian laws which weren't only favoured rather lobbied by its founder. Sadly, the community was declared 'non-Muslim' in 1974 through the 2nd constitutional amended during Bhutto government. General Zia ul Haq introduced 298-A/B which extended these laws to include Jamat e Ahmaddiya and its followers.

Secondly, with regard to the recent case of Mashal Khan's brutal murder, an extremely important point missing was  that of state's role in politicising the blasphemy laws.

I was one of the four bloggers who were abducted in various urban centers of Punjab & Islamabad, the security institutions used this law to down-play the protests of the civil society. Blasphemy accusations were made against us using the electronic, print & social media. We had committed no blasphemy! Our fault was to criticise the Mullahs, the army and the leniency shown to certain sections of the terrorist. The campaign against us riled up many people in the country and Mashal Khan became the victim of such a charged environment.

Thirdly, having successfully used public sentiments against the bloggers and the campaign by federal investigation agency (FIA) became a convenient political tool. The ruling party had allowed all of this to happen and then it also became a victim of this campaign. The Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a group of clerics pitted against blasphemers was facilitated and they were allowed by the state to hold a sit in at Faizabad for many weeks. It was a very calculated move just prior to the elections in which ruling party was expected to win majority once again. The TLP and other groups such as JuD were employed to cut the vote share during the elections so that the Imran Khan led PT could come into power.

Furthermore, the way it works in Pakistan is that once anyone has been accused of blasphemy, one must prove one’s innocence contrary to the legal norms whereby the accused is innocent unless proven guilty. When it comes to blasphemy cases, even if the court declares you innocent, public sentiments are so high that they'd deliver their own verdict and be the judge, the jury and the witness resulting in mob-killings.

Fifthly, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan are no more restricted to the geographical boundaries of the country. They have impacted the affairs of disaspora living abroad. Even in secular countries such as the UK and Norway most recently.

Lastly, in the case of Sajid Masih, a provincial member of legislature asking to look into the case in details was snubbed on record by the Speaker of the house in Punjab assembly and was told that we cannot discuss such sensitive matters on the floor of the house.