Month in review
The worldwide telecommunications explosion has been a catalyst for progess; in Pakistan the internet has unleashed demons of its own. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court, who in March made the alarming statement that “blasphemous” content on the internet is akin to terrorism, has once again spoken. This time with a “recommendation” to Parliament to pass legislation that charges those accused of blasphemy under section 6 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Coming from a public servant constitutionally tasked with interpreting the law not opining on what the parliament should or should not legislate on, this bizarre recommendation has no legal or constitutional weight. What it does have, however, is the ability to send a strong message to society at large that Pakistan’s judiciary (or sections of it) is biased against anyone accused of blasphemy; who it sees as a terrorist.
An order like this creates a moral panic. It tells people at large that their religion is under threat. This is never a passive emotion but an active and provocative call to action that has driven people to genocidal rage.
At a time when accusations of blasphemy, characteristically and virtually without exception, involve a subversion of due process by failing to provide the accused any benefit of doubt or even a chance to explain themselves, this signal from the Islamabad High Court is an endorsement of violence, or at least inflammatory.
It empowers sections of society that are prejudiced against anyone accused of blasphemy, and refuse to allow them a fair hearing. This includes the mob that congregates when an accusation is made, the investigating officers that decide the fate of the accused and members of the government and civil society who have made careers from setting up their stalls in the market place of religious sanctimony.
It is not a coincidence that on the very day that Justice Aziz passed this order, a sixteen year old boy in a village near Gujranwalla was beaten mercilessly by a mob over a blasphemy allegation. In the same month a mentally disabled man in Tando Adam was shot dead, and a religious preacher was gruesomely hacked to death by a shovel over a doctrinal difference.
So that’s just the month of August folks, and what’s the scorecard? Three incidents of blasphemy, two dead and two critically injured. In each case the outcome determined by vigilante violence. Process of law followed? Zilch. If ever you need a showcasing of the injustice caused by the misuse of the Blasphemy law, you need to look no further than the month of August 2017.Mob justice 100%, due process, 0%.
There is a cultural inquisition taking place in public spaces; religious belligerence, bullying, and shrinking spaces for free expression. Students of the Karachi Grammar School, a private educational institution, had arranged a concert where they were to sing John Lennon’s peace anthem “Imagine”; and right wing journalist and Taliban sympathiser, Ansar Abbasi tweeted that such an act would be seen as blasphemy. Again a moral panic was created as many of his half million followers answered Abbassi’s call to save Islam, and Twitter buzzed with the hashtag #OnlyIslamForPakistan.
Having put the lives of schoolchildren in danger, forcing the school to cancel the concert, Ansar Abbasi smugly congratulated his followers for their “peaceful protest”.
There is enough treachery, hatred, violence and absurdity in the average human being to supply any given army at any given day; and the best at murder are those who preach against it and the best at hate are those who preach love and the best at war finally are those who preach peace – Charles Bukowski
Events of the Month:
- August 4: Man with intellectual disability killed on accusation of blasphemy
32-year-old, Atta Mohammad Buriro, a man with an intellectual disability, who was been sentenced under S 295 C of the blasphemy law in 2012 and acquitted only fifteen days ago, was shot killed in Tando Adam as he was bathing in the canal.
Later in the evening, two attackers surrendered themselves to police confessing to the murder.
- August 12: Judge Shaukat Aziz of the IHC urges parliament to prosecute blasphemy cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)
In an expanded order on a petition seeking removal of blasphemous content from social media, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High court recommended that Parliament should consider adding sub-section (F) of Section 6 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 against those accused of blasphemy.
- August 12: Christian teenager beaten by mob, arrested over alleged blasphemy
16 year old Asif a Christian was badly beaten by a mob after being accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran outside a shrine in a village near Wazirabad.
When the police took the suspect into custody a crowd of 200 gathered outside the police check post demanding he be handed over to them, after which he was moved to another station.
Asif is charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code that hands life imprisonment for desecrating the Holy Quran. He will stand trial.
- August 16: A report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom places Pakistan 2nd of 71 countries on its religious persecution record
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has compared 71 countries that contain some form of blasphemy laws and compared all of them in their deviation from international norms of freedom of belief and expression.
Iran was 1st on the list followed by Pakistan. The top five on the list were Muslim majority countries.
- August 14: British members of parliament urged Pakistan to repeal the Blasphemy Laws
On the occasion of its 70th birth anniversary, 24 British members of Parliament encouraged the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws that have been a tool of discrimination.
They ask Pakistan to utilize its 70th anniversary as an event to resuscitate the first vision of a nation ‘joined together, open and free, where religious freedom’ is integral.
- August 16: 70-year-old Tableeghi Jamaat preacher murdered over sectarian differences
Waliur Rehman, 70, of Tablighi Jamaat visited the house of two brothers Ikram and Imran Khan with the intention of preaching Islam; and an argument ensued over differences in belief.
Later that day the two brothers arrived at the mosque where the preaching party was staying and attacked them with a spade killing Waliur Rehman, and critically wounding a companion. Ikram has been arrested while his brother is still at large
- August 25: Plans to sing John Lennon’s Imagine cancelled due to criticism over ‘anti-religious’ lyrics
A school in Karachi cancelled a plan for students to sing ‘Imagine’, the world-famous 1971 ode to peace by John Lennon at an in-house concert, after complaints that the song encourages atheism.
School administrators decided it would no longer be safe after popular conservative journalist Ansar Abbassi tweeted hinting that they might fall foul of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws
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