Blasphemy allegations, again

Clerics in Lahore have issued yet another blasphemy fatwa (religious decree). This time it is against Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) Samina Khalid Ghurki and one of her supporters, Haji Nasir, who the clerics have alleged to be blasphemers. As in most blasphemy cases, these allegations are not based on any concrete proof. In fact, they have deemed Ms Ghurki and Haji Nasir to be blasphemers because of some allegedly blasphemous remarks by a Shia cleric, Zulfiqar Naqvi, in a local imambargah. Naqvi was invited by Haji Nasir to deliver a sermon and since he is one of Ms Ghurki’s supporters from her constituency, they have labelled all of them blasphemers. On the other hand, Ms Ghurki claims that one of the clerics, Mian Attiqur Rehman, has a property dispute with Haji Nasir, which is probably the reason why he is now resorting to using religion as a weapon. This just shows how the flawed blasphemy laws are used as a tool to settle petty feuds and personal rivalries. In another case, a 25-year-old man in Karachi was accused of burning the Holy Quran even though his neighbours deny he could have been involved in such a blasphemous activity. The accused man’s family claim these allegations are a result of a disputed apartment complex. The police have linked this act with black magic. Such is the level of our police’s ‘investigative’ skills.

The debate on blasphemy laws died a silent death after the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011. When Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also assassinated less than two months after Mr Taseer’s death, any discussion even on amendments to these laws ended. According to many human rights and minority rights organisations, the data collected over the years proves that most blasphemy cases are false. While some accused are either killed before or during the trial, a large number of them are still rotting in jails without any end in sight. On the other hand, those who level false allegations are not held accountable. The religious right is so strong that no political party is willing to even start a debate on the blasphemy laws. But how long will the state let the bigots dictate their terms at the cost of innocent people’s lives is something the ruling elite must answer. It cannot allow this injustice to go on forever.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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