- A case of human rights violation
As Rome’s iconic Colosseum lights up red in solidarity with persecuted Christians including those in Pakistan, the citizens of our country continue to wage war against each other. Battered and bruised, soaked in blood, enraged or flustered, they display their own hues of scarlet.
A recent example in Lahore has raised serious concerns over violation of human rights. A case was filed against Patras Masih under the blasphemy law for allegedly posting anti-Islam content on Facebook. The police handed over the accused to the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cyber crime wing for interrogation, where Masih admitted to the crime. The case deepened when Patras’s cousin, Sajid Masih was also taken into custody, as it was learned that the sacrilegious image had been shared with him and this is where the bloody twist comes.
In a now widely circulated video, visibly beaten and extremely injured Sajid Masih has accused several FIA officers of ‘severely’ torturing him and snatching his cell phone in the process. He alleged the officers were coercing him and his cousin into sexually assaulting one another before he decided to jump from the window. FIA officials denied the charges, saying ‘no one had even touched’ him. They insisted Masih panicked after ‘he was asked to unlock his cell phone’ for screening. That after an interrogation of roughly five hours, the investigation agency’s officials were unable to obtain a password from the accused’s cellphone, is yet another matter for consideration!
We, as a nation, are confused. We first demand laws to protect the sanctity of our religion. Then when the laws are made, we take them in our own hands – whether we mistrust the system or feign ignorance, remains a mystery
If Sajid Masih was not tortured by the FIA personnel, the question is then who else could have given him such a bashing in the presence of those officers? In any case, it is a sign of negligence of duty, which is exactly the finding of the committee formed to probe the actions of the investigating team. The committee has suggested departmental action against the four interrogators.
It is also a sign of prejudice and bigotry. From the investigators’ point of view, where the main accused had already admitted to his crime, it would not have been a major task to seek a statement from the other. Yet Sajid Masih, unnecessarily, to say the least, was meted out such a harsh treatment that one shudders when seeing his blood shot eyes and collar bound neck, trying to imagine the situation which compelled him to jump off a fourth storey. The harrowing allegations he made are even more difficult to digest.
The case is a sign of heightened intolerance, when a large number of Christians living in Dhir village in Shahdara Town had to flee from their homes after a charged mob comprising activists of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and other religious parties blocked the Shahdara intersection. Already heady from their Faizabad sit-in ‘success’, the activists burned tyres and threatened to further intensify the protest until the arrest of Patras Masih. Instead of preaching caution and restraint, leaders from mosques in the area urged locals to come out on the main road to also protest against the alleged blasphemy. They probably didn’t bother to learn that the blasphemy case was already close to be getting solved and that the law of the country was sufficient to punish the culprit.
It is a sign of apathy and fear, that while some of the leading print publications in the country followed up on the story and expressed opinions, the electronic media on the whole remained conspicuously silent, busy updating its audience with the findings of the death of a neighbouring country’s superstar.
Most of the signs were there when Mashal Khan, a university student was beaten to death on campus last year, accused of sharing blasphemous content on social media, charges investigations later determined were false. Early this year, an anti-terrorism court sentenced one person to death and 30 others to jail terms, including life imprisonment for their role in the lynching case, while more than 20 were released due to ‘lack of evidence’. Out of the 30 convicted, a further 25 have been recently acquitted. Justice seems a lost dream.
We, as a nation, are confused. We first demand laws to protect the sanctity of our religion. Then when the laws are made, we take them in our own hands – whether we mistrust the system or feign ignorance, remains a mystery. Those assuming positions to enforce the following of these laws, do not wince to break them. Those in a position to preach the respect of law, allow disrespect on the contrary by encouraging the spilling of blood and ransacking of property.
Violence, vengeance, vandalism are the norms of our society. Jumping to conclusions, believing in hearsay, acting on whim are some of our actions. Any suspect or accused, whether belonging to a case of blasphemy or as petty a case as that of robbery, deserves a fair trial. Had Mashal been questioned rather than lynched, he may have still been amongst us. Sajid, even if guilty of blasphemy, did not deserve to be brutally assaulted and victimised.
Soaking in blood a fellow Pakistani is not a befitting response to the vermillion colour used by Romans to highlight their Colosseum. Their symbol should rather be a red signal for us, that with the world already eyeing us for not so good reasons, we may be in yet another limelight, for another wrong action. It is an outcry, not demanding vengeance for blood spilled, but for the preservation of others. We often turn our cheeks crimson with rage, while they should be scarlet with shame. Respect, responsibility should be our values, after remorse over what we do in the name of religion. We have to believe, after starting to learn to behave, that basic human rights must be upheld at all cost. We, as a nation, still have a lot to learn.