The burden of our blasphemy laws


As if we needed another reminder on how far gone we are in the blasphemy debate, a Rawalpindi court sentenced a British man of Pakistani origin to death on Thursday on charges of blasphemy for reportedly claiming to be a prophet. The elderly British pensioner, Muhammad Asghar, despite having a proven history of severe mental illness after suffering from a stroke some years back, has been languishing in jail in this country since 2010 and is now waiting for his date with death. The only good news in this rather morbid tale is that Pakistan has in place a moratorium on the death penalty since 2008, and it is hoped that appeals launched by his lawyers will soon see the light of day. The technicalities of the case are stupefying. The testimony of the team of certified psychiatrists and psychologists from the UK, which determined that the accused was schizophrenic, was not accepted and Mr Asghar’s chosen lawyers were dismissed, landing him with state counsel. Has anyone bothered to ask just how competent and objective the local doctors who declared Mr Asghar sane were? What sort of kangaroo court is this where certifiable evidence is dismissed, mentally ill patients are tried and blasphemy procedures are such that the actual crime cannot be discussed for fear of blasphemy being committed again? 
Needless to say, the madness is spreading. We have come to a point in our sullied tussle with the blasphemy laws, commonly known as black laws, where we even fail to recognise the mental capacity of those who stand accused. We fail to see that a majority of blasphemy cases concern individuals being targeted for personal vendettas or vested interest. We refuse to understand that when a blasphemy accusation is made, an environment of irrationality and fear is created wherein the life of the accused is threatened by vigilantes. There is only one solution: if the black laws cannot be repealed because the requisite political will and consensus is missing, they must at least be amended to ensure that the laws are not abused and that safeguards are put in place to protect all those who become false victims of blasphemy accusations. Salmaan Taseer, the late governor of Punjab, was murdered four years ago because misguided accusations of blasphemy were hurled at him by rogue media elements when he came to the rescue and succour of a poor Christian woman falsely accused. Couple the sentence of Mr Asghar with the recent detention of an Ahmedi doctor, the 72-year-old Masud Ahmad, for reciting the holy Quran. There seems no end to this sorry state. Parliament must wake up and amend these laws, which have been holding our minorities and vulnerable citizens hostage to raving fanaticism.  *

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Aaj Kal