The Pulse

Misuse of Blasphemy Law Again on the Rise in Pakistan

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is easily abused but amendments to the controversial law are unlikely.

Misuse of Blasphemy Law Again on the Rise in Pakistan
Credit: Pixabay

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has claimed the life of another innocent victim. Qutab Rind, a young artist from Jacobabad who was employed at the National College of Arts in Lahore, was killed by his landlord on July 17 over fake blasphemy charges.

The family publicized the case on social media in early August and then the mainstream media picked it up.

According to Qutub’s uncle, Qutub came to Lahore on July 17 along with his two children. He had rented out an apartment and had a dispute with the landlord that day.

The landlord of the flat, identified as Ahsan, approached Qutub and demanded the next month’s rent. Qutub told him that he had already paid the rent and would pay the next month’s rent on the date given in the lease agreement.

The landlord got angry. He called his brother, Waqas Ali, and another accomplice and started beating Qutub with a rod and later pushed him down from the third floor of the house.

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Qutub suffered critical injuries. He was taken to the hospital where he died.

“The suspects told police that Qutub had committed blasphemy for which they murdered him,” his uncle told the media. Later police also confirmed that it was a rental dispute which the suspects were trying to hide under the cover of a blasphemy charge. Blasphemy is considered a serious offence in Pakistan.   

The controversial blasphemy law of Pakistan has been grossly abused with many people lodging false cases to settle personal scores. In Pakistan alleging that someone has committed blasphemy is a sensitive and risky matter, in many cases it ends in a mob lynching before the accused can be tried in a court of law.

Nearly 70 people had been lynched to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges whereas another 40 are currently on death row or serving life sentence for blasphemy charges in Pakistan since 1990.

A prominent example is the Mashal Khan murder case. Mashal Khan, 23, was a student of journalism at Abdul Wali Khan University in in the northwestern city of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Mashal was lynched to death by his classmates over false allegations of blasphemy. A joint investigation team (JIT) was formed to probe the case and released its report on June 3, 2017 clearing Mashal Khan of all blasphemy allegations. The report mentioned that the lynching was a premeditated murder planned by certain student bodies and university management. The report also mentioned that the prime reason for the murder of Mashal Khan was his constant criticism of the university’s administration.

Power state institutions have uses blasphemy charges as a tool to silence strong and powerful voices speaking out against them. In January 2016, five bloggers — Salman Haider, Waqass Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas, all famous for promoting liberal views and criticism of Pakistan’s powerful military — went missing. Soon after their abductions, a campaign started on social media alleging that the bloggers ran a blasphemous Facebook page named Bhensa. The campaign led to wide protests against the bloggers, demanding the death penalty for them. The controversial scholar and TV host Aamir Liaqat Hussain made highly charged allegations of blasphemy against the missing bloggers, putting the bloggers and their families’ lives in danger. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banned his show for a month after human rights activist Jibran Nasir filed a complaint.

Four of the missing bloggers were released in the end of January. Soon after that, they left the country. In March 2017, Waqass Goraya said a “government institution” with links to the military held him and tortured him.

In December 2017, Islamabad High Court cleared all the bloggers of blasphemy charges after Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) found no incriminating evidence against the accused.

A Senate Special Committee on Human Rights recommended that perpetrators of false accusations of blasphemy be given the same punishment as set for those convicted for blasphemy.

This recommendation was criticized by other senate members alleging that the committee wants to change the blasphemy law.

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Former cricketer and politician Imran Khan, whose party won the recent general elections, is soon going to take charge as the next prime minister of Pakistan. During his election campaign, Khan vowed to defend the blasphemy law. His statement brought severe criticism from human rights supporters in the country. Now, just few days from Khan taking the oath as Pakistan’s 19th Prime Minister, there is little room to hope that he would bring amendments to the blasphemy law to stop its misuse for person reasons.

Tehreem Azeem is a digital media journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She reports on issues related to blasphemy law, censorship and human rights violation.