Upping the ante

Published May 3, 2022

IT is a familiar but deadly script that seems to play on an endless loop in this country — levelling accusations of blasphemy to target adversaries.

The incoming government led by the PML-N, with its first-hand experience of being at the receiving end of such tactics that culminated in the Faizabad dharna of 2017 and claimed the scalp of its then law minister, should have been doubly wary of playing the religion card.

Even otherwise, the profound harm that religious extremism has done to the body politic and the rivers of blood that have flowed in consequence is reason enough to steer clear of this low-hanging fruit. That has not happened: on the contrary, the government has upped the ante.

On Sunday, news emerged that a case under the blasphemy laws was registered in Faisalabad against former prime minister Imran Khan and other senior figures in the ousted government as a response to the incident in Masjid-i-Nabawi a few days ago. The sections of the PPC under which the case has been filed are: 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion; 295-A (deliberate or malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs; 296 (disturbing religious assembly); and 109 (abetment).

Without taking away from the gravity of the ugly incident at the holy site which brought shame to the country, the government’s reaction is wholly unacceptable.

Read more: London, Bilawal House worried by govt handling of Madina incident

Firstly, the crime such as it is was not committed in Pakistan, and to suggest that local laws can be applicable in such circumstances is stretching credibility. Secondly, using blasphemy laws to settle political scores — for that is exactly what this is — is condemnable. And it has rightly been met with shock and dismay across the board, including by lawyers, civil society activists, etc. The HRCP demanded via social media that the cases must be withdrawn immediately, adding: “No government or political party can afford to allow allegations of blasphemy to be weaponised against its rivals.”

Indeed, as former information minister Fawad Chaudhry pointed out on Twitter, this is likely the first time that a sitting government has used the blasphemy laws to target its opponents.

Are the seasoned politicians with their hand on the wheel even considering the long-term consequences of this abhorrent turn of events? Do any of our leaders, in government and otherwise, have the moral courage to halt this march to destruction?

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2022

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