Pakistan’s blasphemy law: a license to kill with impunity
By Nasir Saeed

The recent brutal murder of Christian couple Shama and Shahzad Masih because of a blasphemy accusation against them has come at a time when the world was already condemning and expressing its concern over Asia Bibi’s death sentence. The latest incident of the couple being burnt alive has alarmed the world, and raised the level of apprehension.

It may be seen as just another incident by the Pakistani government, but it cannot be dismissed so easily by the rest of the world: it is difficult to find such a clear example of killing in the name of religion.

The damage to the country’s image because of this shameful act cannot be undone, but further damage can be avoided in the future if the government is seen to be taking the matter seriously.
This incident has not just exposed Pakistan’s treatment of its non-Muslim citizens, but the prevailing hatred against them too. Extremism and hate against religious minorities, especially against Christians, has permeated Pakistani society and is devouring it from the inside.

It has also disproved all the claims made by the Pakistani government and its representatives: that minorities are enjoying equal rights, and are protected and safe. While the opposite is clear for the world to see.

The Pakistani government, ulemas (Islamic scholars), politicians, law enforcement agencies and judiciary are all equally responsible for what has happed to the Christian couple. All the condemnation, statements by the Prime Minister that there will be no mercy shown to the killers, all the fatwas and all the compensation made by the Punjab Chief Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, are futile if lessons are not learned, and if there is still no will to treat the causes and bring legislation to stop the further occurrence of such incidents.

There is a history of such attacks against Christians in Pakistan, but if the government, ulemas, media, judiciary and politicians have the desire, this can be the last incident and a turning point in Pakistan’s history – but I am not very hopeful that this is likely.

I hope I am proved wrong and the government fulfils its responsibility to act accordingly, but there is not much hope as killing a blasphemer is becoming a popular.

It is also being said that if the culprits who have been involved in all previous incidents had been punished, this incident could have been avoided. But the government’s inaction, silence and obliviousness is encouraging people to take the law into their own hands.

Mob justice and vigilante killing becoming dangerously popular and has to be stopped. Even a large number of ulemas have demanded punishment for those who are responsible in this incident, but this alone will not help to stop the growing hate against Christians.

It is reluctantly conceded now by the Pakistani minorities that these laws can neither be abolished nor be amended, and that is why Bishop Samuel Azariah has said that we are not against the law, but its misuse has to be stopped, he even appealed to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) for it to play its role.

The Christian community seems frightened and is living under constant fear because of continuous misuse of the law against them.

Christianity is still the largest religion in the world and the world is concerned about Christians in Pakistan. But it is not just the Christians – all those who believe in humanity and equality, regardless of religion and race, sympathise with them.

We shouldn’t forget the role of Christians in the making of Pakistan and their services for Pakistan in the fields of education and medicine. There was time when almost 60 per cent of the population used to study in Christian schools and colleges.

This is the time to revisit our thoughts and treatment towards Pakistani minorities as just statements of condemnation won’t work anymore.

We also need to think if we are deliberately pushing Christians too far and want them to become another Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) – this would be in no one’s interest.

In today’s world where religion is considered a personal matter, and everyone’s human right, and religious freedom is protected and guaranteed, such atrocious acts of killing in the name of religion should be unimaginable: but such incidents against Christians are taking place regularly.

I am sure that Pakistan is aware of all the sentiments, activities and concerns but the question is, does it really matter to Pakistan? It certainly matters to the world that treats its minorities, including Pakistani Muslims, equally and expects the same from Pakistan.

Dr. Farooq Sattar of MQM has said that the murder of the Christian couple is a blasphemy itself and the word minority is against the law of Pakistan and it should therefore be removed from the constitution. This is not the first time that MQM has given such statements, but they firmly believe and stand with this and Altaf Bhai is always the first to condemn such hate crimes.

Though a committee has been formed to investigate the matter, there are apprehensions that there will be no outcome. The Sunni Ittehad council (a coalition of Muslim groups), a proponent of the blasphemy law, has demanded a judicial commission inquiry but at the same time it warned those criticizing Islam.

The continuous misuse of the blasphemy law, killing in the name of religion, and mistreatment of religious minorities is a grave situation, and Pakistan may have to face the consequences if the situation persists.

General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto both tried to bring changes to the blasphemy law but failed. I strongly believe that present Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can do this, and he should do this if not for the minorities or the world, but for Pakistan.

Courtesy: The News Hub