Putting the issue in perspective


Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, was hanged in the wee hours of Monday after a four-year long due process and appeals. Notably, while dismissing his review petition against the death sentence last December, the Supreme Court had observed that the petitioner could neither establish errors floating in the judgement (of the trial court) nor blasphemy charges against the governor.

Yet some religious groups had been staging protests to stop implementation of the death sentence. Soon after the news of his execution came in the morning, protest demonstrations erupted in different cities, damaging public property and causing disruptions in traffic flows. In some areas businesses were also forced to shut down.

It may be recalled that Taseer was advocating removal of flaws in the man-made blasphemy laws – enacted by military dictator General Ziaul Haq – to prevent misuse. In a number of cases, people have been found to use these laws to level false accusations out of ulterior motives, such as to make a property grab or to settle a personal score. Hence, the argument, by people like Taseer, for reform. In rejecting Qadri’s review petition the apex court also pointed out that in Islam a false accusation can be as serious as the blasphemy itself, adding that the calls for reform of the law “ought not to be mistaken as a call for doing away with the law.”

Unfortunately, religious parties have adopted a hardened position on the subject, threatening to block any attempt to eliminate the imperfections that allow unscrupulous elements to make bogus allegations. Ordinary people, of course, do not understand the real issue, and tend to rely on what the religious leaders tell them. In the resultant atmosphere mere allegation can lead to summary execution of the accused. If he/she survives such a fate, fair trial becomes unfeasible because of fear. Lawyers are too afraid to defend an accused and the judges under pressure to give guilty verdict, irrespective of the evidence. In May 2014, a respected lawyer was shot dead in Multan for defending a blasphemy accused. Back in 1997, a Lahore High Court judge, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was gunned down in his chambers after he acquitted two Christian brothers accused of desecrating the holy Quran.

Leaders of religious parties and groups ought to understand that in the absence of clear Quranic injunctions, like in the present case, the relevant institutions of a nation-state have the authority to make laws or amend them as and when required. These leaders have a responsibility to present the issue at hand in its proper context to the people, to ensure that the blasphemy laws are not abused in the fair name of Islam that lays huge emphasis on fairness and justice. They need to help create an atmosphere for the legal procedure to proceed on course. Citizens cannot be allowed to take the law into their own hands. Otherwise, if it was Qadri today, next somebody else can decide on his own to kill anyone on the same pretext.

Source: Business Recorder