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Descent into darkness

Published May 09, 2014 06:40am


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IT was almost a killing foretold. And the path to its inevitability is strewn with all the signs of this country’s descent into a dystopian nightmare. Rashid Rehman Khan, senior lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead in Multan on Wednesday night in an attack that also injured two of his colleagues, one of them critically. Mr Rehman was the defence lawyer for Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, and he had received death threats from two lawyers representing the complainant, as well as two other individuals, for having taken up the case. The threats by the lawyers were reportedly made during the course of the first hearing of the case in March which was held inside the prison for security reasons.

The issue of blasphemy, already one upon whose edifice is played out the ruin of many a life in Pakistan, has assumed an even more deadly trajectory since Salmaan Taseer was shot dead on Jan 4, 2011 by his security guard for advocating changes in the blasphemy law and showing support to Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman accused under the same law. The shameful spectacle of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, being garlanded when he was brought to court for his trial, the fact that the judge who sentenced him to death had to move abroad for his safety, and the then government’s timorous response to the murder, have engendered an atmosphere where vigilante justice in blasphemy cases is openly celebrated by sections of the public. Meanwhile, those accused of the crime find it increasingly difficult to find a lawyer willing, and brave enough, to defend them in court. Trials of blasphemy accused in open courtrooms used to be a harrowing affair, with hostile crowds intimidating judges and defence lawyers during the proceedings, but as Mr Rehman’s murder shows, even moving such trials out of the public eye provides no safety when some lawyers themselves harbour contempt for due process when it comes to ‘crimes against religion’.

Although Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered the immediate arrest of those involved in the attack, it is scarcely enough to stem the tide. The state must not only review the blasphemy law but, through its words and actions, reclaim the ground ceded to those who believe they have a divine duty to play judge, jury and executioner to individuals accused of blasphemy, those providing the latter their right to defence, or anyone advocating changes in the law. One fears though, that it is too much to expect in a country where the state has taken no action to curb a dangerous narrative and where few words of condemnation are reserved for the increasingly violent acts of extremism. It is such silence and inaction that provide the fertile soil for intolerance to thrive.


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Comments (10) Closed

Malik May 09, 2014 10:21am

Your editorial is right on money. However, the larger question which you did not address, is the change in the basic concept and understanding of the blasphemy law. This law is totally unfair, stone age, brutal and fundamentally wrong which consider an accuse guilty right from his/her arrest. The capital punishment is too strong a punishment and media publicity surrounding the case is has been unprecedented in almost all the cases since the implementation of this law. The semi-literate police would arrest people on flimsy grounds of personal enmity, ethnic and sectarian differences in the guise of blasphemy. The media would try them, and justice system would deny them any defense. Worst come worst, even after their trial and punishment, if any and without any fairness, there is strong likelihood that they would be seriously harmed, if not killed by fellow inmates. This law should be taken out of our enforcement book and thrown away. No justice can be expected from its implementation and enforcement. No justice system can be founded on a wrong foundation. We had made our country a laughing stock in the world. The eradication of this law would be a single most source of similar unfortunate killings.

SharifL May 09, 2014 10:29am

If you let extremist thoughts taught in school and Madarsas, do not be surprised that it can lead to darkness. Your editorial is welcome, but will have not change the mindset of extremists. Changing blasphemy laws will not help. Banning intolerant Mullahs talking about the irrelevant verses may do the trick. But that is not going to happen soon. Reformation is never mentioned. So get ready for more such news.

Feroz May 09, 2014 11:09am

A Government that lacks courage to repeal laws that are discriminatory and liable to misuse will suffer from eroding credibility in the eyes of both citizen as well as the global community. The hallmark of good and strong leaders is to do what is right, not what is easy.

random May 09, 2014 11:30am

Muslims must know Islam best. The Jihadi's, militants or fundamentalist they have so many names from Boko Haram to Al Quaida, their actions in the name of their Faith are not humane. Could the silence of the rest be acquiescence or is it fear?

DrTK May 09, 2014 01:03pm

Basically Pakistani society can now be considered as a sick society. The Government and the whole of the polity is deranged. Such editorials as yours are right but just not enough for the malady that afflicts us. The treatment has to be drastic and will be painful, but unless a beginning is made we are doomed. The big question is, who will be our healer?

Saraz May 09, 2014 03:11pm

I am afraid to give my opinion here.

Talat H May 09, 2014 06:21pm

Keep religion out of the business of the state

Last Word May 09, 2014 06:32pm

When the ruling party has a sectarian partner, how can things improve in Pakistan ?

Fareed May 09, 2014 06:38pm

Question remains, even if the perpetrators of the crime are caught , who will bear witness against them ? Terrorists have n't spared even judges . Case in point, killing of a judge in Islamabad court.

John May 09, 2014 07:07pm

A sickening behavior of the society. A society which does not stand together, falls together. Time now is to stand up to this nonsense or fall forever.