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Why Do We Remain Indifferent To Misuse Of Blasphemy Laws?

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In December 2010, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had recommended several amendments to stop the misuse of blasphemy law in the country. It stated; “The government should not allow anyone to misuse the blasphemy law and it should take all appropriate measures whether administrative, procedural or legislative to stop incidents of mishandling the blasphemy law.”

The key points of these recommendations were to change the procedure for the registration of cases, proper investigation by the police before registration of the case, and making it mandatory for the complainant to produce concrete evidence to prove the charges before lodging an FIR with the police.

What happened to these recommendations is unknown, but what we know very well is that the misuse has continued unabated in the country and to make this situation from bad to worse people have increased the extrajudicial killing of the alleged blasphemers after the issuance of these recommendations by the CII.

From 1992 to 2009 (in 17 years), as many as 41 persons were extrajudicially killed on blasphemy charges while the same number of people were killed in last nine years (2010 – August 2018) a sign of indifference from the government and the people towards the recommendations of the CII.  Most surprisingly, the Muslims are found to be in majority (51%) of those who were extrajudicially killed on blasphemy charges and the remaining 49% were non-Muslims like Christians, Ahmadis, and a Budhist woman as well who was killed in Bangkok by a Pakistani on blasphemy accusation. She was not the only woman who became victim of this crime.  There were three Christian females and four Ahmadi females who were extra-judicially killed on blasphemy charges during these 9 years.

 

Extrajudicial killings of blasphemy accused – 2010 – Aug 2018
Religion of accused Fatality
Muslim 20
Christian 7
Christian female 3
Ahmadi 5
Ahmadi female 4
Budhist female 1
Ismaili 1
Total 41

A major step taken by the government after the CII recommendation was the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted extrajudicial killer of Salman Taseer, former Governor of Punjab. Furious reaction from the extremist quarters of the country was an immediate outcome of this action that resulted in destruction of properties and public infrastructure in Rawalpindi and D-Chowk costing around Rs.100 million.

All religious parties and even some of the lawyers offered Namaz-e-Janaza (funeral prayer) in absentia for Mumtaz Qadri raising a question as to how the CII recommendations could be implemented when they appear to have no value for those who have more influences in curbing the misuse of blasphemy law are least concerned on the losses of human lives because of false accusations.

The dichotomy of blasphemy law is the intention of introducing the additional clauses in the law and the failure to make people follow the law instead of ignoring it. On the inclusion of death sentence in blasphemy law 295C, the former Supreme Court judge and former president Rafiq Tarar had stated: “If this law is not there the doors to courts will be closed on the culprits and the petitioners provoked by them, and then everyone will take the law in his own hands and exact revenge from the criminals. As a result, anarchy will prevail in the country.”  What the country experienced after the introduction of death sentence was exactly opposite to the claim made by the introducers.

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A sudden rise in extrajudicial killing of blasphemy accused became regular occurrences in the country besides a witch hunt against blasphemers.

From 1987 to August 2018, nearly 1049 incidents of blasphemy were reported in the press though the actual number of them must be more than that. No Muslim country other than Pakistan can claim to have had such a large number of blasphemy cases. The judicial system did try to provide relief to those who were falsely accused of blasphemy but it was not completely free from risk and fear.

As many as 10 cases were declared false by the court, 79 were acquitted, and 15 were granted bail. While the courts played their judicial role, the religious extremists played their own dreadful role. In some cases, the acquittal or bail from the court could not save the accused from meeting unlawful deaths at the hands of extremists.  One person was killed after his acquittal and four were killed while they were on bail.

Extrajudicial killing of the blasphemy accused is one of the most unfortunate aspects of the misuse of blasphemy law that could be observed from the incidents of this crime. The first Muslim who was stoned to death by a mob was a Hafiz-e-Quran, Hafiz Farooq Sajjad in Gujranwala in 1994. He was falsely declared a Christian by a Pesh Imam of the local mosque who, according to the Pesh Imam, had burned the Holy Quran. Nobody felt the need to seek verification of this announcement before resorting to their heinous crime. Prior to this incident, five Christians had already been sent to their graves for the same reason – 4 in 1992 and 1 in 1993. Instead of following the rule of law and seeking judicial inquiry into each and every incident of blasphemy, the people were getting motivated to take the law in their own hands.

The judiciary of the country faces a dual nature of threats and influences in disposing of the blasphemy cases; dispensing an honest judgment invites threats from the religious extremists and submitting before such threats result in criticism by the local and international press.  To implement rule of justice in the country has become a gigantic task for the judiciary since the introduction of death sentence in blasphemy law 295C. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians facing blasphemy charges, was assassinated in his chambers at Lahore High Court on 19 October 1997.

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The judge, Pervez Ali Shah, who had sentenced Governor Salman Taseer’s murderer to execution had to leave the country following death threats. Another blasphemy case that has been a cause of fear for the judiciary and lawyers as well is of Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at the Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU), Multan, who is facing death sentence because of an alleged secret Facebook group allegedly practicing blasphemy.  This case has been going on for more than six years as it continued encountering delays for various reasons including the changes of seven different judges and the killing of Hafeez’s former lawyer, Rashid Rehman, in his office in 2014.

While the majority of the blasphemy cases were registered against common and poor people, there were some exceptions too. Before assuming the premiership, Imran Khan also faced a blasphemy accusation by the same religious scholar, Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri, who had issued a fatwa of infidelity against the former Governor Salman Taseer. The very next day, Imran Khan openly apologised for the ‘inappropriate’ words that he had allegedly used for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Another high-profile person who became target of an extrajudicial attempt on his life over a blasphemy related issue was Ahsan Iqbal in May 2018 when he was an Interior Minister of the country. Interestingly, Ahsan Iqbal happens to be the son of late Apa Nisar Fatima who, back in 1986, was a Jamaat-e-Islami legislator and instrumental in getting the blasphemy law amended to include death penalty as the only punishment for blasphemy.

What was once considered to be the only legal way to prevent anarchy has now turned out to be exactly opposite of those intentions. The tragic part of this situation is that most of the political parties and almost all religious parties are adamant on leaving blasphemy law untouched no matter how many human lives get lost as a result of the misuse of this law. How this pitiable attitude of the leadership of the country will go in the annals of history is yet to be seen.

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