Minorities' persecution and blasphemy laws in Pakistan

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Fri, Mar 16th, 2018, 17:23:23hrs
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Minorities' persecution and blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Another Christian is struggling for his life in Pakistan following blasphemy allegations against him. The man who belongs to Lahore, a city with very harmonious past but an extremist present, has been tortured beyond belief merely for whimsical and capricious reasons.

Sajid Masih, a Christian youth, has been badly tortured by Pakistani agencies that had been tasked with the investigation. Pakistani police reportedly compelled him to sodomise his own cousin who was the main suspect. Patras Masih, Sajid Masih’s cousin was arrested in blasphemy case. 

Sajid was called for investigation to agency’s office where Patras was incarcerated. Here he was asked to rape his cousin. When Sajid refused to commit the abominable act, they forced him to jump from the fourth floor of the agency’s office. It is nothing short of miracle that the man survived though with multiple fractures all over his body including his jaw that seems to have badly disfigured his face.

There are allegations that the man posted objectionable materials on his Facebook account, though the rumors are yet to be proved in a court of law. Pakistan, where terrorists killing dozens of people tend to escape from prison with agencies’ tacit support, any innocent person can be accused of blasphemy and can be put to death by ruthless mob or by agencies. 

While minority communities in Pakistan have faced persecution since the formation of Pakistan, the severity of the oppression has only gone up with the rise of fundamentalism there. Religious organizations are making way for more extremist outfits that are successfully sidelining their previous incarnations. The rise of Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasulullah, a rabidly extremist outfit founded in the memory of Mumtaz Qadri who had killed former governor of Pakistan Salman Taseer and Hafiz Saeed’s political ventures have performed better than Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in recent by-elections. 

Apparently, in semi literate society where people have been fed on religious fanaticism for decades beginning with the military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s reign of around a decade, extremism remains the most potent force to attract the crowd. Successive governments in Pakistan have used extremism, and of course terrorism as a tool to first bleed Afghanistan and then Kashmir in India. They miserably failed on both the fronts. Afghanistan that Pakistan once thought as its own backyard, has tilted heavily in favour of India, while its Kashmir misadventure proved futile. 

There is no denying that myriad blasphemy laws have been misused across Pakistan to persecute minority communities there. Many a times the blasphemy law is invoked to actually settle personal scores. 

There are more than half a dozen blasphemy laws and bylaws under Pakistan Panel Code dealing with blasphemy. These include rather mild sections like PPC Section 298 that carries one year imprisonment or fine or both as punishment. This section involves uttering of any word or making any sound or making any gesture or placing of any object in the sight with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person.

Stringent laws include section 295A of Pakistan panel Code. It includes deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. A person can be imprisoned for up to 10 years or face fine, or both. But the most stringent law in Pakistan is section 295C of PPC. This includes use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad 1986. Anyone arrested under the charge faces mandatory death and fine.

It is needless to say that these obsolete laws have proved handy not just for successive governments in Pakistan to keep the bigots on its side but also for extremist religious organizations that have mushroomed over the decades. Such sections of legislations have been wantonly misused by government, the extremist organizations and even common goondas as and when the need arises. 

Mashal Khan, a Pakhtun student in a Pakistani university was, in a macabre fashion, beaten to death for allegedly sharing blasphemous content on social media less than a year ago. Asia Bibi, a hapless Christian woman was accused of blasphemy following an argument with her co-workers with whom she grew berries. She was sentenced to death by a local court in Pakistani province of Punjab. After several years of litigation and repeated hearings in the Pakistani Supreme Court, the hapless woman’s miseries are far from over.

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The Pakistani society seems to be stuck in a time-wrap. While the world around it has undergone metamorphosis of sorts, the Pakistani society, led by its obscurantist leadership is doing its best to beguile public to be even more zealot. Whatever little progress the society begrudgingly makes towards openness during bouts of democracy is rendered futile by an indoctrinated army that takes over the country as and when it desires. 

(Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based author and columnist. His latest book includes ‘Muslim Freedom Fighters: Contribution of Indian Muslims in Freedom Movement. He can be reached at syedurahman@gmail.com)

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