Prime Minister Imran Khan has said the government will not tolerate violence in the name of religion and those who commit such acts will not be spared by the authorities, but the premier did not say how the government was considering putting an end to the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
The prime minister made these remarks during a condolence reference held at the Prime Minister’s Office for Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara who was brutally lynched and his body burnt by a mob.
In Pakistan, people are killing in the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Imran said, adding that blasphemy accused rot in jails because lawyers and judges are scared to listen to the cases.
“Judges refuse to hear blasphemy cases, we know that. Then who will defend these accused,” Imran added.
The premier said the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar united the nation against terrorism. Just like that, the Sialkot incident brought the nation together, now entire Pakistan has decided to “put an end to such incidents”.
At the outset of the ceremony, the prime minister praised Malik Adnan, a factory manager who tried to save the life of the Sri Lankan national, saying it was admirable to see that a person tried to save another person’s life without caring for his own.
“Role models are important in the country because people follow them,” Imran said, adding, “Moral power is greater than physical power.”
“I am certain our youth will remember the way Adnan stood up to those monsters,” he said.
The premier said Pakistan was the only country that was established in the name of Islam, but Sialkot-like incidents were a source of shame for the Pakistanis.
“Pakistanis living abroad couldn’t show their faces in public after this incident,” he said, adding that he received tons of messages from people living overseas.
CRITICS DOUBT GOVT’S INTENTIONS
Commenting on the PM’s speech, Advocate Saif Ul Malook, Pakistan’s leading human rights lawyer who successfully defended the country’s most high-profile blasphemy convict Asia Bibi, said the prime minister’s speech meant nothing unless his government announces measures to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
“I think the PM’s speech is just a bid to placate the international outrage over this gruesome incident. Several Pakistanis have been killed over the years due to blasphemy allegations and many are languishing in jails but this time the victim was a foreign national which is why the government is in a tight spot.
“Why didn’t the government think of this before? Even now the PM has merely announced a no-tolerance policy but what steps has he practically taken to ensure that no one else falls victim to false allegations?”
Addressing a protest rally in Lahore on Dec. 4, Peter Jacob, the director of the Centre for Social Justice, challenged the government’s stance on blasphemy laws, saying the ministers don’t analyze the damage caused by the blasphemy laws to the victims.
He felt that merely seeking forgiveness isn’t enough anymore. “Correct your course. Fanatics have been weaponized. Nobody is safe anymore,” he said.
According to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), as many as 70 people have been killed since 1986 following allegations that they had committed blasphemy.
In 2014, an enraged mob brutalized an illiterate Christian couple, identified only as Shama and Shehzad, in Kot Radha Kishan, near Lahore, for allegedly burning a copy of the Quran in a brick kiln where they had been working as bonded laborers. The mob proceeded to burn Shama and Shehzad alive.
In 2009, nearly 40 houses and a church were burned by a mob in Gojra town in Punjab, with eight people burned alive.
“Moreover, countless families have been threatened, attacked and forced to leave their homes; and lawyers and judges involved in blasphemy legal cases have been persecuted for performing their duties independently and impartially. More recently, both state and non-state actors have used blasphemy allegations in furtherance of their vested interests to silence activists and critics,” the ICJ stated in a briefing paper titled “Violations of the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Pakistan” published this July.
Pakistani churches and rights bodies blame conceptual flaws in blasphemy laws for their rampant abuse. Both Islamabad High Court and the Senate’s Special Committee on Human Rights have recommended the same punishment for false accusation of blasphemy. However, they have been ignored.
According to the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, 112 people were accused of blasphemy last year. These included 96 Muslims, 10 Ahmadis and four Christians.
Last month, Lahore police arrested four Muslims charged with blasphemy after they argued with a cleric over whether a funeral announcement for a Christian neighbor could be made from a mosque.