KARACHI: There needs to be an amendment to the blasphemy laws whereby an individual wrongly accusing another of committing blasphemy should be charged and brought before a court of law, said protesters at a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday.

The protest demonstration was staged against the recent lynching of Mashal Khan, a journalism student in a Mardan university.

The gathering of activists, academicians, lawyers, poets and writers not only condemned the student’s murder on the campus but also discussed what could be done to prevent attacks on the basis of blasphemy allegations. Similar demonstrations were staged by civil society groups in various other cities to protest the brutal murder of young Khan.

Speaking to Dawn on the issue of blasphemy, activist Saleha Athar said there seemed to be a “visible disconnect between the students and their student organisations, as well as between religious leaders and their followers.” She was of the opinion that religious and political leaders were required to take responsibility of educating their followers.

An Awami National Party worker, Iqbal Sultana, said: “What will remain horrifying to remember is the fact that the murder took place inside a university. It is evident from the videos released after Khan’s murder that his criticism of the university administration and the out-of-turn appointments and promotions is what led to a blasphemy charge against him, which was eventually proven wrong.”

Explaining further, Ms Sultana said the blasphemy laws were first brought into existence by the British rulers in united India around the 1860s. “The law entailed that anyone who defiles or insults a religious book belonging to any religion among other actions will be tried in a court of law leading to a 10-year punishment.”

But during the 1980s, she said, military dictator General Ziaul Haq added a few amendments to the legislation making it Islam-specific with provision of death penalty for those found insulting the Prophet (PBUH).

Further amendments “need to be made in the laws in order to legally charge those who wrongly accuse others of committing blasphemy for their own interest,” said the ANP worker.

Referring to calls of harsher punishment by some quarters, an activist, Adam Malik, said that seeking harsher punishment for the perpetrators was not the solution.

“We need to understand that the root cause of such incidents is monetary benefit or personal interest. It can only be curbed by bringing such people before a court of law through evidence. Otherwise by demanding harsher punishment, such as death penalty, [it] will create problems rather than solutions,” he added.

Lawyer and poet Waheed Noor said: “Unfortunately, I feel this will not end at Khan’s murder. We need to change the parts of our curriculum filled with hatred against other cultures, religions and ethnicities. And we need to raise our voice even if we are a small group or a minority, because if we do not, this minority that continues to speak up for others will also be targeted and eventually erased.”

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2017