Blasphemy Law In Pakistan:
“Guilty Until Proven Innocent”
Innocent until proven guilty is commonly used in law. However, the term Guilty until proven innocent might shock you in the first instance. That term represents the actual image of Pakistan’s legal system when blasphemy is concerned. Why would one ask, Because no execution has been made in a case addressing accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan ever? (Waseem Abbasi, 2018).
You would be surprised to know that most people in Pakistan support this inhumane and primitive notion that a person accused of blasphemy is ‘always a convict’, and they feel no shame in murdering the accused brutally.
We have seen how a person who murders the accused even before a judicial trial is conducted (Lynching of Mashal Khan, 2017) or during a test (Murder of Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 2020) is portrayed as the mighty hero.
Display of Affection by the People for the Murderer of Tahir Ahmad Naseem:
Violation of Human Rights:
This trend of ‘blasphemy killings’ and unfair judicial trial has been criticized on international levels. It contradicts the Human Rights Association (HRA) agenda and several International Human Rights conventions as it infringes the right to freedom of speech. In the past, false accusations of blasphemy have been used to target minorities and have resulted in massive killings. (Harrison Akins, 2019)
Recently, this year the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) recommended wide-ranging changes to such Pakistani laws and its legal systems.
What Does Pakistani Law Suggest?
According to section 295-C and 298-B of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), PPC sections 295-C and 298-B suggest that there is absolutely no room for pardon when the offences against the religion such as misusing religious epithets, willfully defiling the Holy Quran, purposely outraging religious sentiments and using derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are committed. For such Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, the punishment is either the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Who is to Be Blamed?
Usually, Pakistan’s political parties and judicial body have been under pressure not to repeal or amend the existing blasphemy laws. They fear facing backlash by these mobs or being killed by one of the so-called ‘Ghazis’. The judges themselves have admitted being intimidated by the risk of being labelled as ‘blasphemers’ when deciding a case regarding allegations of blasphemy, as vigilante violence often surrounds them.
The son of Salman Taseer (Governor Punjab who sought clemency for (Aasia Bibi, 2018) was killed by his bodyguard) wrote that: “
I believe Pakistan and its founding in faith, that first throb of a nation made for religion by people who thought naively that they would restrict its role exclusively to the country’s founding, was responsible for producing my father’s killer.” (Aatish Taseer, 2011).
The murderer Mumtaz Qadri was hanged, but the question remains unanswered: Who should we blame?
What Can We Do?
The people of Pakistan have started to address this issue. In addition to several suggestions for reforms by international organizations, voices from within the nation are being raised. Here are a few of them:
To safeguard the interests of its minorities, Pakistan needs to promote and protect religious freedom. The notion of appreciating differences amongst us should be cultivated.
The accusers should provide substantial evidence that supports their claim, and the court shall then decide a case based on fairness and equity.
Blasphemy accusations increased by almost 200 times after Gen Zia ul Haq amended the blasphemy law.” – Digital Rights Foundation (DRF)
It is crucial to conduct a fair trial when lifetime imprisonment or capital punishment is awarded. Therefore, standards of fairness should be ensured at any cost.
Protection of Judges:
As discussed earlier, some judges may be influenced by an enraged mob to decide in favour of the accuser. Therefore, any such risk of biasness should be eliminated by protecting the judges and encouraging them not to compromise the standards of justice.
Instead of ‘going with the flow’, the existing laws should be reformed and legislated again, keeping the interests of its nationals and international conventions in view.
Educating The Masses:
Awareness regarding legal methods and solutions should be provided to the public to know what to do when someone says or writes anything blasphemous.
Time For Change:
So what is the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan? We have been criticized enough for not safeguarding our minorities, but nothing seems to bother us anymore. It is high time for us to determine whether we want to progress as a united nation or as a disharmonious crowd who cannot eliminate differences. If we criticize India for merciless killings of our Muslim brothers and sisters without even giving them a right to a fair hearing, then maybe we should look at our conduct with minorities too.
Written by Amna Rehman
Edited and Managed by Javeria Qadeer