Blasphemy law- Justice delayed is justice denied. By Nasir Saeed


It has been barely two months since we learnt through media reports about the tragic killing of Farkhunda, an Afghan woman accused of blasphemy for burning pages from the holy Quran.
And now I have read that a court in Kabul has given death sentences to four men who were found to be involved in killing Farkhunda. Eight people were jailed for 16 years and an additional 18 who were found not guilty and freed.
The Court still has decide the fate of 19 policemen present at the time of the lynching, as they are accused of dereliction of their duty for failing to protect the young woman Farkhunda.
According to her parents, Farkhunda was innocent and her only sin was going to a local mullah to stop him from deceiving people by writing false Tawiz. But he considered it an interference to his business, and in order to save his job and himself he misused his stature and status and falsely accused her of burning the holy Qur'an. This was followed by an angry mob of hundreds of emotionally charged Muslims taking the law into their own hands and beating her to death. Her body was driven over by a vehicle before being burned and then tipped into the Kabul River.
I was intrigued by this case as the beginning was similar to many cases in Pakistan, but the end was different and had a different moral too.
I think there is a lot to be learnt for the Pakistani government, politicians, police, courts even for the public because it was the public (3000 people) who took to Kabul’s streets in protest and demanded justice for Farkhunda. The Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi told the parliament that Farkhunda was innocent and all the accusations against her were untrue, while Fawzia Koofi, MP from Badakhshan, said that she would appeal against the court‘s decision to free 18 people – something which cannot even be thought of in our country. Those who speak out to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law and stand with the victims are either threatened for their lives or killed, and now no one dares to either criticise the law or speak in support of any victims.
Different people see this case from various perspectives, and thus have different opinions. But in my opinion, it is a very important case as it has set a precedents and it will have long term impact on Afghan society, in lieu of the misuse of the blasphemy law which is commonplace in our country.
The misuse of the blasphemy law continues to rise and there is long list of such examples of those who have been killed or imprisoned for crimes they have never committed. Let’s start with Naimat Ahmer’s case - the first case that was brought to the public’s attention. He was murdered in broad daylight in 1992 by his own student and since then there has been a growing string of atrocities.
I remember the case of Slamat, Rehmat and Manzoor Masih who was shot and killed outside Lahore, High Court. In 2005 three churches and a library were set on fire, while a nuns’ hostel was ransacked in Sanglahill, and despite Mohammad Saleem admitting that he falsely implicated Yousaf Masih for burning the Quran Mahal, he was never questioned. This was the time to set an example, but nobody bothered.
Christian village Shanti Nagar and later in 2009 Korian and Gojra were attacked, and eight Christians were burnt alive. The judicial commission had prepared its recommendation and identified those responsible, but the Punjab government seems reluctant to take any action against the culprits.
Fanish Masih, from Sialkot Nazir Masih of Sahiwal, Mouhammad Yousaf, of Lahore and several others charged under the blasphemy law have been killed in prison where they were detained for their security, but nobody has been held to account for their killings.
In 2013 Joseph colony was set on fire but those responsible are still free to continue to create havoc and terror in society, while Sawan Masih, who denies any charges of blasphemy against him, is on death row.
Last November Christian husband and wife, Shama and Shahzad, were accused of blasphemy and after an announcement from the mosque’s loudspeakers a mob dragged them through the village, beat them to death and then threw them into a brick kiln furnace. Chief justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk took a suo moto notice over their killing. Senior police officers were summoned and questioned but I am not sure if Shama and Shahzad and their family will ever get justice.
Shahbaz Bhatti’s killers were arrested, later released on bail and now there is no news. Salmaan Taseers’s killer is in jail but he has become a hero, people kiss him, shower roses petals on him and glorify his crime. Lawyers surrounded the court when he was sentenced to death and threatened the judge, who fled the country. Ex judges represented him in the court to prove him innocent in the light of a Quranic reference, but he has admitted his and feels pride in what he has done.
A few days ago some people marked Rashid Rehman’s first death anniversary. He was killed for defending a victim of the blasphemy law, university lecturer Junaid Hafeez, but no one has been brought to justice.
I cannot forget the case of Dr Muhammad Farooq, who similarly to Farkhunda was accused of burning the holy Quran. Hewas dragged through the street, beaten and then burnt to death in 1994, but nobody has been brought to justice.
Had the administration and police dealt with all these cases mindfully and the perpetrators not acted with impunity, the situation could have been different today, and the toll wouldn’t have continued to rise. The government and judiciary are responsible for the widespread of the misuse of the blasphemy law and the state of affairs we are facing. We have come to the point where criticising the law, demanding a change or even defending the victims, is as dangerous as being accused of blasphemy.
Almost all Muslim countries having a blasphemy law, but it is Pakistan where it is being mostly misused. People in Pakistan are making a mockery of this law daily by using it to settle their personal vendettas. It is easy to make an allegation against someone (preferably a non-Muslim, have an announcement from the mosque’s loud speaker and gather a mob to attack the community or kill someone like Shama and Shahzad. There is an urgent need to draw a line under this practice and stop this growing phenomenon. Minorities, who consider themselves a main target of this law, have lost their faith and hope in the government and the judiciary too
It is time to take our example from Farkhunda’s case and do justice with Shama and Shazad’s case so that the Pakistani government can set a precedent too, and restore the public’s faith in the government’s credibility.

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