End misuse of blasphemy laws

It has been over a week since an inquiry was ordered against FIA officials in whose presence, and because of whose highhanded tactics, Sajid Masih jumped from the fourth floor of the FIA building. The Pakistani public needs to be updated on the status of the inquiry. The officials who tortured the two cousins must be penalized, but that is not all that the authorities need to do in the matter.

In recent days, a similar incident has been reported in Faisalabad as well. Many Christian residents have vacated the neighbourhood as others stay under constant fear, and without any aid from law enforcers.

To begin with, all those in positions of authority who remain ignorant of the plight of Pakistani minorities must be condemned, and censured. The list of such personnel must include the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly who refused to let a minority MPA speak on the matter in the House last week. Mr Sher Ali Gorchani occupies a very important position in a house of representatives. Shame on him that he still remains ignorant of the everyday struggles of one of Pakistan’s most marginalised community. We hope that the House and his party will take him to task for this. If the Punjab Assembly can pass a resolution against the National Accountability Bureau for the latter’s violation of Ahad Cheema’s human rights, there is no reason why the assembly must delay a similar resolution against the deputy speaker and the bigoted FIA officers whose criminal conduct led Sajid Masih to jump from the window. If the assembly has the good of the Pakistani people at its heart, we would expect the resolution to unequivocally condemn the abuse of blasphemy laws as well.

The nexus between land, political power and misuse of blasphemy laws has emerged in the latest incidents as well. There have been enough incidents in the past where Christian residents were driven out of their shanties by extremists with aide of unscrupulous clerics. It needs to investigated if land [of Daair village in Shahdara and of the Faisalabad settlement] is at the heart of the most recent episodes as well. Regardless, the past incidents alone should have been enough to trigger efforts to address linkages between economic vulnerability [of Christian communities] and misuse of blasphemy laws. It is high time we amend the law that is the source of all this hardship to the minority communities. Until we have made concrete progress against the extremist mindset that underpins all these incidents, the least the legislature can do is to pass a law to make false accusations of blasphemy punishable, and then the executive authorities will have to demonstrate their commitment to the cause by implementing the law wholeheartedly.  *

Published in Daily Times, March 5th 2018.