The Plight Of ‘Blasphemers’ In Pakistan
“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”.
Despite a clear alternative in the statute of awarding life imprisonment instead of death for blasphemy, the Federal Shariat Court ruled in 1990 that only death sentence could be awarded, and the Pakistan Supreme Court rejected the appeal against the verdict.
Much more dangerous however, than court verdicts in blasphemy cases, is extra judicial killings of the accused and their lawyers and sympathisers, often during the pendency of the case, or soon after an acquittal, by fanatic mobs whipped up to a blood thirsty frenzy by reactionary bigoted clerics.
Often the accused in blasphemy cases are members of minority communities, the real motivation of the accusation being to grab their property. Minority community members are often blackmailed by asking them to give away their property or else a blasphemy FIR will be filed against them (which in effect is a death sentence). So a Damocles sword hangs over the head of all minority community members, who have become the most vulnerable (their minor daughters are often abducted and forcibly converted).
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), an organisation of fanatic religious hounds, has been given a free rein in Pakistan. Recently in April when French President Macron condemned the slaying of a teacher Samuel Paty by Islamic bigots in France, the TLP organised riots demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador and cutting off of economic ties with France. As a consequence some rioters and 4 policemen were killed.
The Pakistan National Assembly held a fateha for the deceased rioters, but none for the deceased policemen who were killed fighting them. Speaker after speaker in the National Assembly, including government ministers, professed himself to be an ashiq-e-rasool (lover of the Prophet), and condemned the French (their speeches can be seen on YouTube). The Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said his ideology was the same as that of the TLP, though their methods were different. In fact Imran Khan had earlier appeased the religious extremists throughout his election campaign by condemning the Ahmadis (without naming them), and even after his victory he sacked the internationally renowned economist Atif Mian from the Pakistan Economic Advisory Council just because he was an Ahmadi.
Pakistani politicians routinely express their sympathy with the extremists for fear of being lynched by the fanatics if they do not.. Progressive teachers who teach critical thinking to their students are victimised, e.g. Junaid Hafeez who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and is in jail for 8 years, or Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ammar Ali Jan who were sacked. The student Mashal Khan was lynched for alleged blasphemy by his fellow students.
As Ailia Zehra has said in her article, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.