Pakistan’s Salem witch-hunt

Religious minorities in Pakistan live in the most adversarial of circumstances. The Blasphemy Law, a draconian law promulgated by General Ziaul Haq, hangs over the heads of not just religious minorities but even Muslims like the sword of Damocles. Recently, a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a local court. Though most such death sentences are overturned on appeal, there have been several cases of the accused being killed during or after the trial is over. One such case is that of a 22-year-old boy, Imran Latif, who was shot dead near his home even though the blasphemy charges against him had not been proved and he was released on bail.

Instead of catching the culprits or denouncing the murder, the investigating officer pronounced: “no Muslim tolerates a man who commits blasphemous acts”. If a law enforcer can justify a murder on this pretext, it means that we are officially sanctioning a free hand to murderers. When our policemen pass such intolerant statements, we should not expect much from the bigots present in every nook and corner of this (un)blessed land. The Blasphemy Law gives a state-backed stamp of approval to intolerance. It is a shame that General Zia’s legacy has not been reversed despite the passage of several decades. With laws like this on our statute books, what kind of message are we giving to the world? In the comity of nations, we do not stand a chance to be dubbed ‘civilised’ due to such laws.

It must be pointed out once again that most people accused of blasphemy never committed the act but were charged by people with ulterior motives like a property dispute, personal vendetta, etc. Sadly, this is reminiscent of the Salem witch trials in the US in the 17th century.

Both military and civilian governments have been afraid of repealing the Blasphemy Law as they fear a backlash from the religious zealots. The only way to deal with this now is if the people unite and stand up for their just rights. We need a people’s movement asking for a reversal of not just this law but also many others, including the Hudood Ordinance. If the people do not raise their voice, they would be left in a continuing state of being granted no rights.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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