Chief justice, minorities and blasphemy law

Nasir Saeed

Reading the Pakistani newspaper everyday is not a pleasure, but amidst such upheaval and in such a precarious situation the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Tassaduq Husain Jillani, has made a statement that, the apex court would “share the grievances of the minorities” and can direct establishment of a “new force” to safeguard the minorities. The chief justice expressed his anger over the non-registration of cases against those involved in setting temples ablaze in Sindh and also said that offences against any religion come under the blasphemy law.

It is widely believed that blasphemy laws only protect the reverence and veneration of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Islamic personage, mosques and shrines etc, but Chief justice Jillani has interpreted the law and nobody can deviate of from it. This interpretation can somehow be helpful to stop further attacks and torching of churches and temples, but it is now up to the minorities as to how they take this interpretation and protect their places of worship.

Since the chief justice seems sincere in providing justice to minorities and to treat their wounds, it is time for minorities to use this opportunity wisely. Chief Justice Jillani told the minorities’ representatives that due to the importance of the case the apex court would appoint amicus curiae – Munir A Malik, Khawaja Haris and Hassan Aurangzaib, it shows how sincere he is.

It was all said during the court hearing of the suo motu case of church blast in Peshawar last year, in which at least 85 people were killed and over 100 were injured, and many are still receiving medical treatment. The statement must have brought some comfort to the minorities, and undoubtedly it has raised the hopes of many.

But in the recent weeks after police charged 68 lawyers with blasphemy, a teenager walked into a police station and shot dead a 65-year-old man from a minority sect accused of blasphemy, raising minorities’ concerns. It was the second killing, without due process, in recent weeks using blasphemy as an excuse.

The killing of an alleged blasphemer in police custody is not a first, and I hope you remember the case of Bahawalpur where a mentally ill person was wrestled from the police and burnt alive in the square. In some cases the police have been found to be involved in the killing of people accused of blasphemy, raising several questions about the inability, professionalism and integrity of police.

It is a serious issue of the security of victims of blasphemy law. People who are taken into police custody or detained in prisons are the responsibility of the police and jail authorities, but there are several people who were killed in prison like Nazir Masih and Fanish Masih. Samuel Masih was killed by a policeman on duty to guard him while he was admitted in hospital for treatment ofTuberculosis. According to the policeman’s statement, he had no regrets but said he had fulfilled his Islamic duty and being a Muslim had only done what Islam taught him.

He is not the only person, but there are several like Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, killer of the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who submitted a written statement of 40 pages, referring to 11 Quranic verses, 28 quotes from Sunnah and several other eminent Muslim jurists with reference to Islamic jurisprudence justifying his acts, and claiming that he has not committed any crime, but had only done what Islam teaches him. He has since been elevated to the stature of a hero.

When Judges are threatened by extremists for their diligence and lawyers are killed for defending innocent people, the only conclusion is that the Pakistani government has no control over these extremists and is failing to establish the rule of law.

Pakistan is a sovereign state which has its own constitution and institutions for the implementation, but extremists are challenging its writ and authority every day and everywhere by killing innocent people, bombing worship places and attacking civil and military Bases. They are making a mockery of it, but still the government is making every effort to appease these extremists who are creating havoc and terrorising the Pakistani society, which continues to be radicalized and religious intolerance and hatred against minorities is growing.

 

I believe this is the internal danger, the army chief had indicated about, but the government seems less interested in tackling the rapidly deteriorating situation in the name of Islam. Extremists are openly threatening human rights defenders, harassing and intimidating judges, but nobody has been brought to justice.

There is no doubt that the government has a lot on its plate and is baffled about setting its priorities, but what else can be more important than establishing the rule of law to create a peaceful society, ensuring its people security and providing justice.

This is the time when the government has to make a stern decision and deal strongly with those who are posing the real threat. This is the issue which needs immediate attention and does not require foreign
support, but a good intention and determination. I am sure the government is aware of all those seminaries, madrasahs and other places through its apparatus where these hatemongers are being fed and bread – further obliviousness could be dangerous.

It is always said that blasphemy laws are important for the security of the minorities otherwise people will start taking the law in to their own hands. But that is what is happening now, vigilante killings and self-justice are becoming more popular among people, while those provoking others to perpetrate such crimes walk free because of their religious status in society.

It is being said that Pakistan is the most dangerous country for minorities and Chief justice Jillian, in his earlier statement, said that a law should be made to protect the minorities and thus Muslims living overseas (western countries) will be protected. The judiciary has identified its duties and initiated its process, but now is the time for the government to play its vital role in protecting minorities and establishing rule of law.

 

Courtesy: The News International, London

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