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Editorial | About Time The Controversial Blasphemy Law Is Reviewed

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The case of incarcerated scholar Junaid Hafeez is yet another dark chapter in the story of Pakistan’s struggle to maintain some form of pluralism against the forces of religious obscurantism. Today, he has been given the death penalty after six years of imprisonment. There is still the possibility of seeking remedy from higher judicial authorities, and his lawyers have announced they would appeal the verdict in the high court, but it is a most dispiriting moment on the whole.

There has been debate over causality when it comes to blasphemy-related anxieties in Pakistan. Is it the legislation that led to increased accusations, or a greater sensitivity and more accusations that led to the legislation itself? The debate becomes akin to asking whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first.

It should be possible for all reasonable people to agree that blasphemy-related anxieties and legislation both feed into one another. The one strengthens and legitimizes the other, and is in turn strengthened and legitimized by the other.

Ever since the murder of Governor Salman Taseer, a number of voices in Pakistan, including religious leaders, have added to a growing chorus that points out the way in which the blasphemy laws are susceptible to misuse by malicious elements. But before the problems with the blasphemy laws can be addressed in any meaningful way, there has to be a well-intentioned and open discussion on the subject. State authorities and mainstream religious leaders will have to take the responsibility for allowing such a debate and protecting those who take the lead in it. The dangers to those wishing to discuss the problems in the blasphemy laws are very real. Murder is a very real possibility, as we have repeatedly seen.

In the meanwhile, one hopes that the bright young man who is held hostage to the forces of darkness and violence can find some remedy. His ordeal has lasted far too long already and has, today, taken a turn for the worse.

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Naya Daur