The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Monday formed a committee to probe the incident of an official allegedly threatening a Christian female security officer with a blasphemy case during a parking dispute at Jinnah International Airport’s cargo area last week.
According to footage of the incident, the male official had issued the threat to the female officer after she did not allow him to enter the cargo area in his friend’s vehicle, that too without a number plate.
The man, in the video, allegedly threatens the female officer with blasphemy accusations, saying he will “call preachers … I am mad and will cut [you] up”.
The video further showed that when the man named Saleem uttered the word “blasphemy”, the woman official told him that he was free to implicate a “Christian” woman in a blasphemy case, but in fact it was he who was committing disrespect of his religion.
After the video went viral on social media and the Pakistan People’s Party’s top leadership took notice, the CAA on Saturday suspended the official.
According to a statement by the CAA spokesperson on Monday, an inquiry committee has been formed on the directions of the CAA director general and will be headed by the airport services director.
“The committee will hold its first meeting on Tuesday,” he said. “Both parties involved have been informed through letters.”
The spokesperson added that the CAA official and the female security officer have been asked to appear before the committee and present their stance.
STRONG REACTION TO INCIDENT
With the footage of the incident quickly going viral over the internet, it drew severe criticism and condemnations from government officials, political leaders, church leaders, and the general public alike.
“This unfortunate incident at the start of the new year points to the core issue of false allegations of blasphemy that remains unaddressed despite the loss of several innocent lives over the years,” said Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshall in a statement.
Stressing the need for stricter punishment over false accusations of blasphemy, he added that the incident was not the first of its kind and “certainly not the last”.
“Such unfortunate incidents rooted in religious bigotry will continue to defame Pakistan at the global stage till the State acts responsibly for an end to extremist elements,” Bishop Azad said.
He also demanded that the authorities concerned ensure the safety of the courageous Christian official as false allegations of blasphemy have time and again led to violence against religious minorities.
Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi condemned the incident, saying that “there can’t be a bigger form of terrorism than a person using religion and the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) name for his own ulterior motives”.
In a video message on Sunday, Ashrafi urged the Sindh government to register an FIR (first information report) against the CAA employee on behalf of the state and dispense exemplary punishment.
“I, on behalf of the Ulema Council, demand that the Sindh government take action against this man and punish him,” he said. “If possible, the case should be heard in an anti-terrorism court.
“No person, group, or party is allowed to accuse anyone of blasphemy to achieve their own ulterior motives.”
Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects, while penalties are light for those who make such false accusations.
Lahore-based Center for Social Justice noted that at least 1,949 persons had been accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021.
Eighteen more cases were reported till July 14, 2022. The victims included 47.62 percent Muslims, followed by 32.99 percent Ahmadis, 14.42 percent Christians, and 2.15 percent Hindus, while the religion of 2.82 percent is not confirmed.
Church leaders and rights activists say that subordinate courts capitulate to pressure, resulting in convictions in almost all blasphemy cases.