A trial court in Bahawalpur district has acquitted five Hindu blasphemy accused of the same family, over a year after they were taken into custody for alleged desecration of the Holy Quran, their lawyer said.
Advocate Ezra Shujaat told Kross Konnection that Yazman Additional Sessions Judge Haider Ali Khan exonerated the accused, Padmaa Ram Bheel and his sons Ramesh Ram Bheel, Mansukh Ram Bheel, Dhan Raj Bheel and Pappu Ram Bheel on May 26, after the complainant, Akmal Iqbal, testified that he had implicated the men in the blasphemy case based on suspicion and the accused had already proven their innocence in front of the village council.
READ MORE: Life of a Hindu in Pakistan and State’s role in protecting its minorities
Padmaa and his sons had been arrested from Chak No. 15/DNB Yazman after being charged with Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Section 295-B states that “Whoever willfully defiles damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
According to Shujaat, the complainant, Iqbal registered an FIR [First Information Report] No. 226/2021 on May 26, 2021, alleging that the Hindu men had desecrated holy pages stored in the premises of the government primary school for boys in the village.
“The school was closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown due to which the Hindu family started using the premises for its residence and also kept their livestock in the classrooms. They broke the locks of the cupboards where religious books were kept for students due to which the holy pages were scattered all over the premises and were trampled upon by the family’s goats and sheep,” the FIR stated.
READ MORE: Hindu school principal handed 25 years imprisonment for alleged blasphemy
Iqbal further alleged that when he and some other local Muslims confronted the Hindu family “they dared us to do whatever we could”.
However, according to the lawyer, the complainant nurtured a grudge against the poor Hindu family due to which he involved them in a fake case.
“Iqbal allegedly wanted to grab the school land for his own cattle and livestock and implicated the Hindu family in the case to force them to vacate the premises. The case against the family was based on mala fide and there were also no witnesses against them due to which the accused were granted post-arrest bail on July 16, 2021.”
“The learned sessions judge exonerated them from the charge after the complainant retracted his allegation, but it’s unfortunate that no action is taken against persons who level false allegations of blasphemy against innocent people,” said Shujaat.
False accusations of blasphemy are common in Pakistan, often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.
The government’s failure to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws is emboldening false accusers, church leaders and rights activists say.
READ MORE: Blasphemy case lingers on for Christian youth in Pakistan
According to Bishop Azad Marshall, moderator/president of the Church of Pakistan, there is no deterrence against false accusations of blasphemy.
“We understand the sensitivity of the issue, which is why we are not seeking a repeal of the laws, but we do want the state to punish false accusers of blasphemy instead of putting the onus of prosecution on those falsely accused of the crime,” he said.
He added that the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Islamabad High Court had also recommended giving false accusers the same punishment as those prescribed for blasphemy accused, but the government had taken no action.
“Who is responsible for all the years innocent people are forced to spend in prison?” he asked.
READ MORE: Brothers on death row for alleged blasphemy await justice
At least 1,949 blasphemy suspects were subjected to false allegations, prolonged trials and displacement between 1985 and December 2021, according to a report by the Lahore-based Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
The CSJ added that at least 84 people were killed after being suspected or accused under blasphemy laws since their promulgation as part of former military ruler Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation during the 1980s. Mobs lynched two people and injured two others in four cities of Pakistan between December 2021 and March 2022.