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EDITORIAL: Archbishop of Canterbury on a visit to Pakistan to show support and hear the concerns of the local Christian community also met with the President, Prime Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff. He later told an interviewer that though there is a clear commitment on the part of the government to religious freedom and belief, minorities of all sorts, and also the Muslim majority, remained suppressed in their daily lived experience.

His cause of concern was that “there are very clear misuses, as is recognised, of the blasphemy law against minorities. However, most of the misuses — well over 50 percent — are Muslims misusing it against Muslims.” Unfortunately, this has become a dreadful reality of life in this country. The motive behind misuse of the blasphemy laws always is either a personal grudge or a property grab.

It is worth noting that Pakistan had inherited the British era blasphemy laws but no one was accused of insulting Islam until the Ziaul Haq regime added several clauses to them as part of his ‘Islamisation’ drive, and also sowed the seeds of violent extremism.

Since then many people have been lynched to death on mere point of the finger. Countless others languish in jails for years on end with no hope of getting justice as the lawyers, fearing for their own lives, refuse to defend them. For the same reason, judges in lower courts routinely hand them the ultimate penalty of death (added to the laws by Nawaz Sharif government) without examining evidence. In fact, a while ago, a counsel for an accused was murdered in Multan; and before that a Lahore High Court justice was shot dead in his chambers for acquitting a wrongly accused Christian man.

No wonder unscrupulous elements feel free to misuse the laws to get rid of whosoever. Last December, Sri Lankan manager of a Sialkot factory, a Christian, was brutally lynched by a mob, and soon afterwards in Vehari a Muslim man was tied to a tree and stoned to death.

After these incidents, the Prime Minister directed all concerned to adopt “zero tolerance” against those who take the law into their own hands. Apparently, spurred into action by that directive, a few days ago the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Qibla Ayaz called a special press conference along with the council members and 17 religious scholars to say that violence against anyone on allegations of blasphemy is inhuman, against Sharia and the Constitution, and that those involved in the Sialkot and Khanewal incidents should be brought to justice as soon as possible. He also said that the main factor behind such horrific incidents was delay in dispensation of justice whereas, like in the two cases he mentioned, more often than not, the accused are killed unheard.

The blasphemy laws are so frequently and freely misused because there are no consequences for a false accusation. As the Archbishop explained “if one person accuses someone of blasphemy falsely and with malicious intent, they should have a criminal penalty in the same way as when there has been blasphemy, and the blasphemer should have criminal penalty.” Some people in this country have also been calling for the same punishment for anyone making false accusations as for the accused, but religious parties vehemently oppose any such suggestion despite the fact that such a change would be in conformity with the Islamic teachings-based Hudood Laws. It is about time the CII stopped sidetracking the real issue and played its role in making the necessary change so no one misuses the laws to commit inhuman acts in the fair name of Islam and its holy personages.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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