A policeman shot two men in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi yesterday. One of them lost his life, while the other was wounded. Both men were accused of blasphemy a charge punishable by death in Pakistan. While no death sentence has been carried out for those charged with blasphemy, non-profit organisation, ‘Life for All’ says that at least 48 blasphemy-accused have been killed extrajudicially. In most if not all cases these laws are misused by those wanting to settle property disputes, personal vendetta, etc. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have been targeted due to these laws. It is quite easy for anyone here to label someone else a ‘non-Muslim’ or accuse them of blasphemy, as there is hardly any accountability when a crime is committed in the name of religion.
Nearly a month ago, the ‘dharna revolution’ started in the capital for electoral reforms and the ouster of this government. Such is the tragedy that no dharnas (sit-ins) would ever take place here for the rights of the minorities and those arrested on false blasphemy charges because of fear... fear of those with guns and bombs. Pic/AFP
For years, human rights organisations and activists have been asking that the blasphemy laws should either be scrapped, or at the very least reformed, so that they cannot be misused to settle scores. Once a person is charged with blasphemy, his/her life is at risk. Those critical of the controversial blasphemy laws are also in danger. The debate on blasphemy laws ended for all intents and purposes when two high-profile politicians were assassinated three years ago. In 2011, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his bodyguard for speaking in defence of Aasia Bibi, a blasphemy-accused. Taseer’s murderer was treated like a hero by many. The same year, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down for the same reason. Human rights advocate Rashid Rehman was killed earlier this year for defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy.
It is because of such incidents that lawyers are afraid of defending those accused of blasphemy, judges are afraid of dismissing the charges and most people are afraid of speaking vocally about the issue. In trying to appease the religious Right, our rulers have made it impossible for people to question any laws made in the name of religion. Many people who have spoken about minority rights, incitement to violence in the name of religion, and other such sensitive issues have had to face threats at the hands of fundamentalists. Not everyone has the capacity to deal with the trauma of being hounded by the fundos, which is why a lot of people choose to stay away from sensitive issues. More than a month has passed since the ‘dharna revolution’ started in the capital for electoral reforms and the ouster of this government. Such is the tragedy of this country that no dharnas (sit-ins) would ever take place here for the rights of the minorities and those arrested on false blasphemy charges because of fear… fear of those with guns and bombs.
Pakistan needs a different sort of revolution. We need to revolutionise our mindsets in order to fight extremism. If we lose our battle against extremism, we would eventually lose our country. One hopes that some day we realise which battles are worth fighting for.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org