LAHORE: Human rights activists have expressed their concern over custodial torture inflicted on accused for confession and urged authorities to regard principles of criminal justice to ensure a fair trial and effectively implement Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2022.

They referred to the case of Imran Rehman, who was allegedly accused of posting blasphemous material in a WhatsApp group and was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency.

A case was registered against Imran on Sept 14 under sections 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, 6, 7, 8, 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and 295-A, 295 B, 298, 109/34 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

He has been in jail for over two months and the authorities have severely tortured him, and forced to make him to confess an offense he has not committed. Voice for Justice Chairperson Joseph Jansen said that the existing blasphemy laws did not guarantee a fair trial and religious freedom, and the accuser enjoyed impunity despite presenting false evidence and false testimony.

However, neither any law was amended, nor was any measure introduced to prevent misuse of blasphemy laws except procedural changes.

He noted that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were incompatible with international human rights standards. “The accuser who levels blasphemy allegations against any person is bound to prove malicious intent, but this stipulation is missing in legislation and is not taken into account during blasphemy trials,” he said.

Lawyer Abdul Hameed Rana said that Imran Rehman used to work at Lahore Metro Ticket Office. “He is innocent and is falsely accused of committing blasphemy. He is under severe mental pressure as he is imprisoned in a room in jail where four out of six prisoners suffer from mental retardation.”

A human rights activist, Ashiknaz Khokhar, said that the digital media and social platforms in Pakistan had become a source to make false accusations of blasphemy and target religious minorities. The blasphemy laws and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 were misused to curb freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, as evident in cases involving Imran Rehman, Shagufta Kiran, and Zafar Bhatti.

He said innocent blasphemy accused were made to face imprisonment for years. For instance, Zafar Bhatti was the longest-serving prisoner/convict who was accused of sending blasphemous text messages. He has been behind the bars since July 2012, and he was sentenced to death in January 2022.

Another example is Shagufta Kiran who has been in jail since July 2021 on the accusation of sharing blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group.

“These accusations have completely ruined the lives of the family members of the accused who have to face relocation and financial constraints,” Khokar said.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022

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