Living in fear

Published November 27, 2021

THE registration of a blasphemy case against four members of a family from a village on the outskirts of Lahore has once again brought into focus the extensive misuse of the law to settle personal scores and grab victims’ property or attack their beliefs.

The latest case registered on the complaint of a local prayer leader, who was approached by a family member more than a week ago to make a public announcement about the funeral of a Christian neighbour, also underscores the police’s tendency to register a case without investigation into allegations in order to keep the situation under control.

Although the exact figures are not available, at least 1,855 people were booked under the blasphemy law between 1987 and 2020. This includes formal charges as well as allegations. The actual number of victims, however, is believed to be much higher. Muslims (47.9pc) represent the largest faith identity accused of or charged with blasphemy followed by Ahmadis (33.3pc), Christians (14.5pc), Hindus (1.8pc) and others (2.4pc).

Read: Acts of faith — Why people get killed over blasphemy in Pakistan

That the enactment of the blasphemy law in its present form by the Zia regime and its unchecked misuse makes non-Muslims live in an atmosphere of unending fear is an understatement. The arbitrary application of the law has squeezed the space for enlightened debate on issues related to religion, and deepened extremism and bigotry in society.

We have seen people falsely convicted, lynched, shot and knifed to death, and mob attacks on entire communities merely on the suspicion of blasphemy, with most culprits getting away scot-free. The murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a member of his security detail in 2011 for supporting changes in the law to stop its misuse is justly referred to as a watershed in the country’s history. The abuse of the law against the innocent, as pointed out by the Supreme Court, is impossible to stop in the absence of “adequate safeguards against [its] misapplication or misuse … by motivated persons”. It’s time for politicians to stand up to defend the vulnerable from the law’s misuse.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021

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