Pakistan: When blasphemy charges make no sense


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If we thought we had seen the worst of what the blasphemy laws of this country could be used for, we really had not seen anything until the very unusual, very outrageous current case of as many as 68 lawyers being booked for the ambiguous ‘crime’ of committing blasphemy. In what can only be termed absurdity, the Punjab police has charged the largest number of people ever for a single blasphemy case after the same lawyers protested when one of their colleagues was detained by the police. Now, one wonders how a blasphemy case is applicable to a protest and that is where the sheer lunacy comes in: the lawyers were voicing their anger at what they alleged was the illegal detainment of one of their colleagues by the police in Jhang and were raising slogans against Station House Officer (SHO) Umar Daraz. The police levelled the blasphemy charges when a complainant registered the case saying that the name ‘Umar’ — also the name of the second Caliph — was used disrespectfully by the lawyers. This has got to be one of the maddest examples of the complete and utter abuse of the blasphemy laws in this country, which are a set of black laws frequently used to settle personal scores and achieve sinister agendas. The case smacks of collusion between the complainant, Arshad Mahmood, a resident of Jhang, and the police who seem to be looking for revenge against the lawyers who dared protest against them. This is nothing new as these laws have been used in the past for all other reasons except for blasphemy and religion. However, the sheer scale of the case is a first. 
It reminds one of another tragic case that occurred a year or so ago when an unfortunate businessman dared to throw away the business card of a man whose name was Mohammad. The man was lynched and killed by an angry crowd that had been riled up with sentiments of blasphemy. This is a terribly primitive society if such moronic instances are enough to fuel the fire of hate and persecution. There is little doubt that the lawyers in this case are being made the victims of a plot by the Punjab police in an attempt by them to assert their dominance. It goes without saying that the lawyers’ community in Jhang has rallied together to stop this injustice but there is little luck that sanity will prevail considering that, once the label of blasphemy has been slapped upon any miserable soul, there is little one can do to protect them — such people, if even acquitted by the courts, are brutally murdered for the very accusation of blasphemy. These lawyers, all 68 of them, have now been assigned a death warrant no matter the fact that this case exemplifies the textbook abuse of the blasphemy laws. 
Whilst we are on the topic of blasphemy, Chief Justice (CJ) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has called for observance that offence against any religion is termed as blasphemy. He expressed his concern at the non-registration of cases against those who set Hindu temples on fire in Sindh. This is definitely a welcome move by the CJ, putting matters into perspective that all religions should be accorded the same amount of respect, especially in Pakistan where minorities are treated in an abhorrent way with many false blasphemy cases being registered against them. It is commendable that the honourable CJ has stepped up to establish some safeguards for our belittled minorities but the biggest safeguard can come from at least amending the blasphemy laws if we cannot repeal them. It is all too easy to falsely accuse members of the general public, particularly our oft-neglected minorities, and that is why the punishment for false accusation should be as harsh as the catastrophe usually mounted on the accused. We have seen too many blasphemy cases go horribly, bloody wrong. It is time to change the absurdity for some logic and safeguards.

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