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Has Misuse Of Blasphemy Law Stopped In Pakistan?

“Blasphemy laws are not misused anymore,” so said the special representative to Prime Minister on Religious Affairs Allama Tahir Ashrafi. He derived this conclusion by claiming that no such incidents were reported during the last seven months. What motivated him to issue this statement was the concerns being expressed by the world over growing religious intolerance, misuse of blasphemy laws and shrinking freedom for expression in Pakistan. The government official claimed that during last seven months not a single case of blasphemy was registered. Elaborating his remarks, Ashrafi said that not a single FIR on blasphemy was wrongly registered in Pakistan during the past seven month and for more than two and half years in the Punjab province. Sadly, the situation on ground is altogether different.

Let’s have a fact check on these claims based on the data I have compiled using press reports. The reports cited below appeared in the press during last five months of this year:

13 January 2021: Model Town police station, Lahore registered a blasphemy case under section 295 -A, B and C, against two young Christians, Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih.

25th January, a man named Humayun Pasha from Mirpur Azad Kashmir has been falsely accused of blasphemy by some religious extremist mobs. NOT IN PRESS

January 29, 2021A Christian nurse at Sohraj hospital in Karachi was beaten up by a mob of women who accused her of committing blasphemy.

21 Feb 2021: ISLAMABAD-Koral police have booked five unknown men under section 295-B against five men who were found involved in filling sacks with pages of Quran.

March 1, 2021 People in different parts of the Abbottabad city protest alleged desecration of the Holy Quran by an under-trial prisoner in the Abbottabad jail.

April 10, 2021 – FAISALABAD: two nurses of the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital were book under section 295-B.

April 13, 2021 DIJKOT: A man, Samundri, was arrested on charges of desecration in Chiniot. Separately, in Chak No. 111JB Dholanwal on Jhumra Road, another man was suspected of sacrilege. Police arrested the suspect and registered a case on the complaint of ASI Ali Akbar.   

April 16, 2021 – PESHAWAR: The Peshawar police booked organizers and participants of the Aurat March in Islamabad on the orders of a local court on the charge of committing blasphemy.  The FIR was registered under sections 295-A and C.  

May 18, 2021 – ISLAMABAD: A mob attacked Golra police station in an attempt to lynch a man detained on a charge of blasphemy.  Another case was also registered under 295A, 298A, 298B and 506ii against two persons. The FIR stated that one of the suspects committed blasphemy on May 15.

Within five months of this year alone, at least seventeen persons were reportedly booked on blasphemy charges of which six were in Punjab, seven in Islamabad, two in KP, one each in Sindh and AJK.  I am sure that the reports received by the Police Department must have surpassed these numbers but the poor data maintenance by all police departments except Sindh Police carry no data of blasphemy incidents on their websites leading or misleading the executive authorities on the crime rates the country experience. The assertion of Hafiz Ashrafi on the absence of blasphemy cases in the country most probably emanates from this inefficiency of the police department. Yet, the ultimate blame falls on the governing authorities who fail to notice such negligence and bring no change in the system.   

To say that the blasphemy laws are not being misused is a claim that needs clarification as to which type of complaints, in the opinion of Hafiz Ashrafi, fall under this category. In majority of cases, complainants appear to be proof positive about their findings and any question on such complaints becomes difficult because of the sensitivity of the subject. Years of legal trials go by before the real truth unveils. 

1-Mar-2021 Lahore High Court Judge Javaid Gaddal ordered the release of Nabeel Masih on bail based on no evidence that he had committed the crime.   Nabeel Masih was 16 years old boy when he was arrested for blasphemy on 18th September 2016 and had an original application for bail rejected. The frightened teenager was confronted by a mob of 80 Muslims calling for him to be lynched for his alleged blasphemy. 

 

Based on earlier allegations, Nabeel was a blasphemer and it took nearly four years before his crime was proven to be wrong. This is not the only issue with the blasphemy cases in the country.  The purpose of making a law is to prevent people from resorting to lawlessness.  In blasphemy cases, a trend has gained consensus of a portion of the society that considers killing of a person extrajudicially is permissible once he is declared a blasphemer irrespective of whether or not his guilt is proven in a proper manner.  

March 22, 2021:  A Lahore superintendent of police (Security) Khalid Mehmood Afzal, who was accused of blasphemy for allegedly throwing a bag containing religious scripture, released a video message clarifying that he loves the Holy Book and can never think of insulting it.

These clarifications of SP Khalid Mehmood couldn’t cool down the outrage of the people who had been charged up by a social media campaign accusing him of blasphemy. A week after the initial incident, a mob of lawyers got hold of the SP and started beating him. Luckily, his colleagues managed to save him from the angry crowd of law practicing persons. Another incident of similar lawlessness was reported from Golra Sharif where more than 200 people armed with baton, weapons, and stones had gathered to lynch a prisoner accused of blasphemy.  Additional forces were deployed to control the law-and-order situation in the area.

All these incidents refute Tahir Ashrafi’s claims and demand that instead of living in “all-is-well” dream the authorities should wake up and face the ground realities before they are swept away by the unruly mob letting them no chance to take any remedial actions.

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Naya Daur