LAHORE: The Faisalabad police registered a case under ‘blasphemy laws’ against PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and over 150 others, including some stalwarts of the party, on Sunday in the wake of the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident.

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar says local laws were applicable to the unlawful acts committed by Pakistanis even outside the country.

“Both the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code contain the provisions that a Pakistani citizen may face legal action if he commits an offence even outside the country,” Mr Tarar told a press conference along with Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.

Referring to the FIRs registered against PTI leadership in different towns over the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident, the law minister denied that the cases were registered under 295-C — the anti-blasphemy law, saying they were instead enlisted under the laws introduced more than a century ago.

“These cases were registered under sections 295 and 296 related to hooliganism at sacred places, hurting religious feelings of a section of society and barring people from performing their religious rituals and are equally applicable to mosques, temples, gurdwaras and churches.”

FIRs not registered under Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code, says law minister

He said these offences were cognisable but sought to assure the nation that the government would not interfere in the investigation process and would leave it to the court of law to penalise or free the accused.

Mr Sanaullah said the government was not barring the people from initiating legal action against the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident because on finding no legal remedy, they could resort to taking the law into their hands.

Complainant Muhammad Naeem, a resident of Faisalabad, nominated top leaders of the PTI and Imran Khan’s close associates, including Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill, Qasim Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir, Aneel Musarrat as well as former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq.

Mr Shafiq was the first suspect arrested in this case on his arrival from Saudi Arabia on Sunday night, an official told Dawn.

He said the suspect was accused of leading a delegation of PTI party workers from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, where they allegedly used abusive language and raised political slogans at the holy mosque.

The police acted against the suspects a few days after some members of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s delegation were mobbed in Masjid-i-Nabwi, inviting widespread condemnation.

It is stated to be the first such criminal case lodged against top leaders of a political party under blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

The FIR was registered under the following sections of the Pakistan Penal Code: 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment).

The complainant alleged the Masjid-i-Nabwi episode was a “planned and thought-out conspiracy” and supported his claims by referring to videos and speeches made by certain PTI leaders.

Mr Naeem further said the suspects had violated the Quranic verses by raising political slogans and using abusive language on the holy premises where scores of pilgrims were offering prayers.

He said most of the suspects belonged to a political party (PTI), as was evident from the video statements that appeared on the official Twitter accounts of PTI leaders and workers before and after the nasty incident.

Many PTI leaders endorsed or supported the incident even when hundreds of thousands of people from the Muslim community were strongly condemning it worldwide, he said.

He particularly mentioned the name of Sheikh Rashid Shafiq, the nephew of former interior minister Sheikh Rasheed who was present in the Masjid at that time and was “confessing to his crime” through his video statement.

The complainant said another delegation of the same political party (PTI) from England also reached there. It included Sahibzada Jehangir alias Cheeku, Aneel Musarrat, Nabil Musarrat, Ijaz Haq, Umair Ilyas, Rana Abdul Sattar, Barrister Amir Ilyas, Gohar Jilani etc.

Rana Sanaullah alleged that PTI leaders had been clearly hinting at the incident before it took place but the government ignored their statements, thinking the rivals could not use the most sacred places on earth for Muslims in their power politics.

He said evidence suggested that the accused were provoked by the PTI leaders here in Pakistan and that they also had links with the UK chapter of the PTI.

The interior minister said the whole Ummah had condemned the incident except those who had planted it.

One of the accused, he said, himself admitted that they managed to block Pakistan’s official delegation led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif from offering Jumma prayers and Taraweeh at the Masjid-i-Nabwi.

Referring to Imran Khan’s threat that houses of the political rivals would be besieged, the interior minister warned that the PTI leaders would also be unable to come out of their homes if workers of other parties resorted to the same tactics.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) showed its serious concern over the FIR.

“The cases registered against senior PTI leaders under Section 295-A must be withdrawn immediately. No government or political party can afford to allow allegations of blasphemy to be weaponised against its rivals,” the HRCP tweeted on Sunday.

Similarly, former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet: “Probably the first time in the history of Pakistan, a government is using blasphemy laws against the opposition. Earlier, private sects and extremists weaponised these sections to avenge personal vendetta, but today the law minister and interior minister triumphantly claimed victimisation as success.”

FIR lodged in capital

Meanwhile, an Islamabad resident approached the police on Sunday for the registration of a case against former premier Imran Khan, the interior minister and others for inciting people to misbehave with the prime minister of Pakistan and his delegation at the holy mosque in Madina, Dawn has learnt.

Mohammad Naveed Bhatti lodged the complaint at Margalla police station with a request to register a case against Mr Khan, former interior minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Shaikh Rashid Shafiq, along with several unknown people.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2022

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