A case has been registered against renowned Islamic preacher Engineer Muhammad Ali Mirza for disrupting public order by allegedly ridiculing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and downplaying the non-Muslim status of the minority Ahmadi sect.
The progressive speaker has been charged under Section 16 of the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) which states that “Whoever makes any speech, or by words whether spoken or written or by signs or by visible or audible representations or otherwise publishes any statement, rumour or report, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both if such speech, statement, rumour, or report– causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public; furthers or is likely to further any activity prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order.”
Social media users posted clips of Mirza’s interview in which he was seen questioning the role of the Pakistan Army in politics.
The case has sparked controversy and debate among Muslims, with some supporting the accusations and others defending Engineer Mirza.
Engineer Muhammad Ali Mira, according to information available in public domain, is a 19th grade mechanical engineer in a government department who gives online lectures where he talks about different religious issues, and runs a research academy where he imparts religious education based on his own understanding of Quran and Sunnat.
He allegedly opined that present-day Ahmadis are better than Jews and Christians (the people of the book). He, however still declared them as non-Muslims and said that his video clips have been presented out of context.
He was arrested on May 4, 2020, on accusations of spreading hate speech against religious scholars.
Meanwhile, a religious cleric Pir Afzal Qadri has accused Mirza of committing blasphemy and announced a Rs0.5 million bounty for anyone killing him.
Critics have long called for reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy law, saying it is often abused by influential members of society and religious fanatics to intimidate religious minorities and pressure opponents into settling personal feuds.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim Pakistan where suspects are often attacked and sometimes lynched by mobs.
According to a factsheet released by the Center for Social Justice, as many as 171 people were accused under the blasphemy laws in 2022. The highest occurrence was observed in the districts of Karachi, followed by Chiniot, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Nankana Sahib, Lahore, and Sheikhupura.
According to the report, 88 of the accused were Muslims, followed by 75 Ahmadis, four Christians, and two Hindus, while the religious identity of the two accused could not be ascertained.
Four accused were extra-judicially killed, which brings the number of extra-judicial killings to 88 persons in total during the period from 1987 to 2022. At least 2,120 individuals had been accused of committing blasphemy between 1987 and 2022.
The trend witnessed an increase in the aggregate abuse of blasphemy laws in Punjab in the past 36 years, above 75 percent. However, 52 percent of the accused belonged to minorities despite their small ratio (3.52%) in the population of Pakistan.