Blasphemy cases

Published February 12, 2015

OVER the years, as self-anointed ‘defenders of the faith’ have multiplied in a rightward-drifting Pakistan, the number of people accused of ‘offences against religion’ has gone up exponentially.

As reported in this paper, the Punjab prosecution department, in collaboration with the home and police departments, has shortlisted 50 undertrial blasphemy cases to be fast-tracked in which the state itself will defend the accused.

Also read: Govt to defend ‘victimised’ blasphemy accused

According to the government, the selected cases — chosen from 262 being tried in different courts in Punjab from 2010 to date — are of those who have been languishing behind bars due to lack of, or weak, evidence and non-availability of counsel.

Further, it has been said, the accused in these cases are ones who have been ‘victimised’ and that some of them may also be medically examined to gauge their mental health.

It is encouraging that Punjab is making efforts to expedite matters for those who appear to have either been unjustly charged with blasphemy, or deprived of their right to due process in such cases.

However, the criteria for their selection say much about the radicalisation of this society, in which vigilante justice in matters of faith is often feted rather than vilified.

Why are there such few lawyers available to defend blasphemy accused? Because lawyers defending such individuals are deemed guilty by association, sometimes by those who themselves have sworn to uphold the law.

Advocate Rashid Rehman, shortly before his murder in May last year, received death threats from fellow lawyers for defending a blasphemy accused. Then there is the blasphemy law itself, and the procedural requirements according to which someone can be charged under it.

While no one should have to fear being charged with a crime — any crime — in the absence of the requisite prima facie evidence, a charge of blasphemy instantly stigmatises the individual and invites the risk of violence against him.

Several such accused have been murdered behind bars, some even after being acquitted. A revisiting of the blasphemy law, at the very least, to prevent false allegations based on vendetta or even pure mischief, is thus urgently required.

Finally, it would have been appropriate if some of the cases selected for speedy trials involved accused that belong to minority faiths.

For while allegations of blasphemy menace Muslims and non-Muslims alike, minorities are especially vulnerable, with entire communities driven out of their homes in paroxysms of faith-based violence.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2015

On a mobile phone? Get the Dawn Mobile App: Apple Store | Google Play


27 Nov 2021

Supporting ECP

ALTHOUGH the government bulldozed legislation on electronic voting machines through parliament, the reality is that...
27 Nov 2021

Forgiving the Taliban

IF there is one takeaway from Thursday’s gathering of more than 1,000 Shia Hazaras in Kabul, it is the call given...
Living in fear
Updated 27 Nov 2021

Living in fear

THE registration of a blasphemy case against four members of a family from a village on the outskirts of Lahore has...
26 Nov 2021

State Bank’s projections

THE macroeconomic projections listed by the State Bank of Pakistan in its annual report on the nation’s economy...
Ad distribution
Updated 26 Nov 2021

Ad distribution

If present govt can muster will to achieve this task it would set a solid precedent that no future govt would find easy to undo.
26 Nov 2021

Messy passengers

NEWS that passengers on a PIA flight from Manchester to Islamabad left so much litter on the plane that it led to a...