Pakistan needs #ruleoflaw. Arrest and punish those who murder and those who incite violence

Shama Shehzad and daughter

Shama and Shehzad with one of their daughters, in front of a tropical backdrop. How dare they aspire for a better life?

Update: For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the state has become the plaintiff in a case involving murder due to alleged blasphemy. Let this be the start of a new era where no one dare attack or kill anyone on such a pretext again. Let the rule of law prevail, and religion not be used to cover up heinous crimes.

The vicious cycle continues in the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It will not end unless the ‘takfiri’ (declaring someone a non-Muslim) ideology and justifying murder for alleged ‘blasphemy’ are not curbed. Once again a violent mob incited by calls from mosque pulpits has killed on the basis of such allegations. Once again the motive was not ‘religious’ but financial (as often happens). Rule of law MUST be imposed and the culprits caught, charged, tried and punished. Enough of this culture of impunity for crimes committed in the name of religion. This time it was a poor young couple – read Asif Aqeel’s comprehensive account of Shama and Shehzad, brick-kiln workers, lynched after being accused of ‘desecrated’ pages of the Quran (she was pregnant, they leave behind four children including a baby). Fifty people have been arrested. The next day, in another city, a policeman axed to death a man brought into custody after being arrested for a brawl – his justification: the man had been committed “blasphemy”. The policeman has been arrested. Below: Society for Secular Pakistan’s demand that  clerics involved in hate speech be arrested and punished for inciting religious feeling.

The cycle will continue because no one is ever punished for either false allegations, or for their involvement in the criminal act of extra-judicial murder, although laws exist against both. The ‘blasphemy’ laws of Pakistan are not divinely ordained. These are man-made laws, imposed on Pakistan by a military dictator. Gen Ziaul Haq added various clauses to the original Article 295 of the British law (shared by India and Bangladesh) that dealt with injuring religious sentiment. While criminalising other aspects of ‘injuring religious sentiment’, the critical words ‘malicious intent’ were quietly dropped. ‘Intent’ or ‘neeyat‘ is crucial when someone is accused of such crimes. If the intent was not to defile or injure religious sentiments, there is no case. It’s time to openly debate these issues and stop this senseless violence. Even if someone burnt some pages of the Quran, that is not grounds to kill them. 

Parveen_Bibi_with_Shama Shehzads_one_and_half_years_old_daughter_while_talking_to_World_Watch_Monitor_Punam_2

Parveen Bibi with Shama Shehzad’s year and a half old daughter Poonam. Photo: Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor

It is good to see that there is widespread outrage in Pakistan against the latest ‘blasphemy murder’. Many groups are holding protest demos in different cities of Pakistan. Some people have started a collection drive to sponsor the lifelong education and other needs of the three children (details coming up).

The situation has been spiraling downhill since the early 1990s when the first ‘blasphemy murder’  was committed, right after the option of life imprisonment lapsed, making death the only option for 295-C convictions. This is not a religious, but a socio-political and legal issue stemming from many factors that need to be addressed. Every case investigated so far has been found to have ulterior motives. Half the cases registered are by members of one Muslim sect against another, or based on other motives like financial or business rivalry, land disputes, or caste – jealousies arising out of changes in the caste system (eg. Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death, and now this brick-kiln worker couple, also Christian).
Discuss law

Poster at a protest demonstration in Karachi after the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2010

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan been long pointing out that the severity of the punishment (mandatory death) is disproportion to the crime. The ‘blasphemy laws’  give a handle to the unscrupulous to settle scores. Also pertinent is ‘intent’, a word that was dropped when the military dictator Gen. Zia amended the ‘blasphemy’ laws. In this situation, the absence of rule of law in Pakistan, the lack of a witness protection plan, and the weaknesses in the law enforcing system with the police being poorly equipped and trained to be effective in these and other cases, make for a volatile situation.

These issues have been exacerbated by the promotion of a ‘takfiri’ (terming people non-Muslims) ideology perpetuated first through the Second Amendment of 1984 that declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, followed by Gen. Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law Order 20 of 1984 that made it a criminal offense for Ahmadis to practice their faith as Muslims.

Shama's sister Yasmeen Bibi, with their father Mukhtar Masih. Photo: Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor

Shama’s sister Yasmeen Bibi, with their father Mukhtar Masih. Photo: Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor

 

The Society for Secular Pakistan (SfSP) strongly condemns the killings of Shazad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama by the crowd incited by the clerics of three mosques of the villages in Kasur.

We demand that these clerics should be arrested and punished for inciting people’s religious feeling to kill the kiln worker who had reportedly some dispute with the kiln owner. Unfortunately this is not the first time that the sacred place of worship was used to incite and entice people to kill with impunity. There have been instances when some fanatics had announced hefty head money for killing so-called blasphemers and the state did not take any action although it’s a crime.

While the Society for Secular Pakistan stands for freedom expression, we demand that the state should register all mosques and the religious leader to keep a close check that nobody makes hate speeches from the pulpits. They should be free to preach their faith but not hatred. At present there is no check of the state on over 250,000 mosques and 20,000 madrassahs in the country.

The brutal Kasur incident is once again a rude reminder to the peace loving people of Pakistan that ever since perfidious General Zia amended the blasphemy law many more people have been killed by the fundamentalist vigilantes than before. Such killings in the name of religion are encouraged by the inappropriate blasphemy law in the country which needs amendments.

The recent judgment confirming the death sentence of Asiya Bibi creates an environment in which tolerance and civility are victims. We appeal to all democratic forces to protest against these killings and build public opinion against bigoted laws.

Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed, President
Released by: Babar Ayaz
SfSSP spokesperson

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3 Responses

  1. we don’t deserve to be called as human beings . i am ashamed on this act of barbarianism as a Pkistani

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  2. Yes I am of the opinion that first govt take action and punish the perpetrators of this atrocity. The thinking sections of our society must embark on a concerted program to change the mind set by means of education and persuasion. Write columns in newspapers. Write letters to editors. Distribute handbills at Sunday Bazars, bus stops, and in the schools and colleges on a regular basis. Our social scientists to write articles. Hold discussions on Tv talk shows in all languages, and etc.

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  3. […] discard the unstated policy that enables Takfir, namely declaring someone a non-Muslim. They must impose the rule of law and end the culture of impunity that allows criminal actions in the name of religion to go unpunished. No more ‘good Taliban, […]

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