A district and sessions court in Sialkot has handed out a death sentence under the country’s controversial blasphemy law to a man accused of desecrating the Holy Quran.
What is particularly disturbing is that the judge delivered his ruling in a highly charged atmosphere, with banners and posters displayed everywhere and protesters seeking death gathering at the court where a high level of security had to be put in place to protect the accused man. This pattern is one that has been seen repeatedly over the last few years.
Each accusation of blasphemy is followed frequently by a frenzy often built up by extremist groups, which builds pressure on both police and judges. Certainly, few district court judges are willing in the face of such intimidation to rule in favour of any person accused of blasphemy. The whole situation is akin to the Salem witchtrials which took place in the late 17th century in the US. It is unfortunate we have not moved beyond this period in terms of development.
The blasphemy law, which is included in several sections of Pakistan’s penal code was widely used and made harsher during the 1980s, under the regime of the late General Ziaul Haq. Over the last decade, its misuse has been widespread, most often as a means to settle petty scores. Muslims and non-Muslims have both suffered as a result. Dozens remain jailed, some have been killed in prison and others have found that even after acquittal by higher courts they are unable to live safely in the country. More dangerous still is the mindset created by this law with mob killings becoming a reality. Only months ago, a Hindu factory worker accused of uttering blasphemous words was killed by fellow workers, allegedly watched by police who failed to act.
Efforts made to introduce safeguards within the blasphemy law, including a 2004 alteration requiring investigation by a senior police official of all such cases have proved largely ineffective. The misuse of the law has been criticized by international and local rights organizations. It was time the blasphemy law was amended to offer adequate safeguards to victims and steps put in place to prevent the blatant misuse of the provision that takes places today and which only serves to further increase the prevailing culture of intolerance and bigotry.
Source: The News