Blasphemy killings: Victims of circumstances

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‘In the Penal Colony: where the accused is always instantly found guilty’

 

Some of the recent debates in the parliament and media about Mashal’s murder focus on whether or not he had committed blasphemy, instead of starting a probe into the cold-blooded murder

 

The idea of Pakistan was to protect the majority Muslims and a small fraction of minorities too which became a part of it at the time of independence. But the protection of the Islamic symbols and figures was so dramatically endured that it became a hurdle even when it comes to protecting the basic human rights of the Pakistani citizens.

In the past, people were killed without any regard for their religious affiliations, but still, it does not ignore the fact that majority of such victims have always belonged to the minority. In the recent incident, a student Mashal Khan was killed in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.

What changed this time: the mob consisted of Pakistan’s educated elite (the ones who can afford university education), instead of brick kilns, churches, markets, this time the altar was a university campus, and method was borrowed from the black lynching of early 20th century but with an addition of a little lead.

Some of the recent debates in the parliament and media about Mashal’s murder focus on whether or not he had committed blasphemy, instead of starting a probe into the cold-blooded murder. When religions and symbols become important than people, a stage comes when human life loses its worth.

The ‘law of the jungle’ could not be allowed to prevail. Imran Khan commented on the murder, while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s belated condemnation said, “Will not tolerate citizens taking the law into their own hands.” Right wing journalist Ansar Abbasi rejected ‘mob-justice’ in favour of state’s justice, which also eliminates the question of Mashal Khan’s innocence as it replaces one type of violence with another.

What does ‘mob-justice’, a term used by Ansar Abbasi, mean? Some kind of right reaction to the crime, which he deserved, but with a change of method and executioners.

The irony in Mashal Khan’s case gives rise to a despondent state of affairs. People are being killed, but instead of a human life a legitimacy of the mob is being discussed and focused upon.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are not only failing to protect the symbols for which they were introduced, but also taking innocent lives

 

Once you are accused of blasphemy there’s a very slim chance that you will survive. Either you will be murdered by a mob, languish in jail for you own safety, or you will be sentenced to death by the judicial system. An Amnesty International report says, “This is particularly the case with charges filed under Section 295-C because an individual can be convicted and sentenced to death solely on the basis of oral testimonies of a few prosecution witnesses.”

The social media controversy, especially inflamed by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) chief justice, could be the reason behind the provocations and mob-justice.

Earlier, the IHC had taken up the issue of blasphemy on social media maintaining, “… [if] government machinery did not stop blasphemous content from reaching citizens; people like Mumtaz Qadri would continue to take the law into their own hands.” A threat or warning? Hard to decipher.

Subsequently, the court noted that if the issue of blasphemy is not tackled by the government then the patience of the ‘followers of prophet’ could run out. The judiciary, which is supposed to uphold the rule of law in the country, suggests that mob-justice would be a logical conclusion.

An IHC judge is implying intolerance as a justification of a murder. Is he taking out accountability from the whole process? So people on their whims will persecute people because the state is not willing to do so? It raises many questions in the mind of an ordinary citizen when he looks up to the country’s top court.

The IHC judge has shown only one side of the Muslim community — the impatient ones who can turn violent on slight inducements without any regard for human life or religious teachings. Mob inclinations were catalysed by the remarks and the acceptability of idea which helped overcame the guilt of being human.

Everyone who, according to the constitution, is a citizen of the country deserves a trial devoid of mob-justice. The role of the judiciary, state, society remains negligible to address the matter which has taken the life of many and will take many more if not handled carefully.

The state has repeatedly bowed to the pressure from the mullahs and quasi-political religious parties. Blasphemy laws cannot be repealed: a mantra which is always being uttered. The state itself has become a victim of these laws a few times, but again a handful of lives are dispensable to keep the social fabric of hate together.

The recent hate campaign against social media bloggers who dissent from the state narrative is absurd: a country where people are always willing to kill in the name of country/religion. Some bloggers did go missing for ‘dissent’. While there was an outcry from civil society, several media sources decided to portray them as blasphemers, hate mongers and abominations who did not deserve to live. Appealing to emotions rather than facts to distract people.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are not only failing to protect the symbols for which they were introduced, but also taking innocent lives. The abusers of these laws roam free while victims are even deprived of decent burials. Truth and sanctitude is sacrificed in the name of some non-religious laws. There is a need of fair trial in such cases. There is a need to make people aware of knocking on courts’ doors instead of hunting for ‘blasphemers’ hidden amongst them.