Bhensa, Blasphemy, and the Role of the Court

After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.

The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’.

defence.pk postThere is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.

However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.

In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?

Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.

Proof that Pakistanis are World’s Greatest Human Rights Defenders

Shireen Mazari Human Rights Defender

Once again, international human rights NGOs, media, and even the UN have Pakistan in their sights. As usual, we are accused of ignoring human rights violations. How can this even be possible? As I will now prove to you, Pakistanis are not human rights violators, actually we are the world’s greatest human rights defenders!

Liberals note the abuse of blasphemy laws for land grabbing from religious minorities in Pakistan, but does this mean that we don’t care about minority land rights? No! Many Pakistanis take out massive rallies against land grabbing by Israel.

International media prints reports about an epidemic of violence against women in Pakistan, including cases of rape going unpunished. However, ask any Pakistani man and he will tell you in deep forensic detail about rapes and other abuses faced by women in India.

Human Rights NGOs spread stories about Pakistan security agencies killing unarmed youths and murdering journalists, but does that mean we are ignoring abuses of security agencies? Absolutely not! Obviously these NGOs are the ones ignoring the outcry in our own media against abuses by security agencies in America.

Now once again the UN is pointing fingers at Pakistan over the mysterious disappearance of activists, just like they have pointed fingers over missing persons in Balochistan.  Liberals are pointing at social media trends like #WhoAreTheyDefending and #MissingOrRAWterrorists to say that we don’t care about enforced disappearances. Not true! We have been leading all efforts to raise awareness about enforced disappearances in Kashmir.

It is clear that all accusations are part of a world wide conspiracy to defame Pakistan. The proof is clear to anyone willing to admit facts. Pakistanis are the world’s greatest human rights defenders…for everyone except Pakistanis.

Nawaz has a problem. His name is Chaudhry Nisar.

Nawaz Sharif Chaudhry NIsarNawaz Sharif gave a commendable speech today in Chakwal, saying that his government is dedicated to improving the lot and lives of religious minorities and promoting the mindset of ‘for you is your religion and for me is mine’. He told the audience that he is prime minister of all Pakistanis and “not just Muslim Pakistanis”. The Prime Minister should be applauded for giving this important message. Unfortunately, he has a problem.

No, it’s not his past flirtation with becoming ‘Ameer ul Momineen‘. The past can be forgiven if the present proves different. In this case, there is a question mark because while Nawaz is saying the right thing, he is keeping in his government powerful ministers who are saying the opposite. Day before PM Nawaz gave his impressive speech, his own Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told a completely different story, declaring that sectarian militants cannot be considered terrorists. Nisar’s remarks sparked a walkout by opposition Senators.

How can anyone take seriously the PM’s words about ending religious intolerance and sectarianism when his own Interior Minister is seen serving tea to the heads of proscribed hate groups and giving his own speeches defending sectarian militants? Nawaz Sharif has a choice. He can keep Chaudhry Nisar and continue to give empty speeches and have no one believe him, or he can sack Chaudhry Nisar and go down in history as a PM who actually put his words into action to improve the country. He can’t do both.

They can kidnap a blogger, but they can never disappear the truth

bhensaFour missed calls from my sister. I knew why she kept calling, and I didn’t want to talk about it. When the phone rang the fifth time, I put my phone in my bag and went out for a smoke. I finally called her back when I was able to get alone.

“You need to call Baba.” I expected the usual harassment, but this time my sister was calm. She didn’t sound angry, she sounded tired. I asked her was he upset, but she said he was acting strange. He had seen the news report about Salman Haider and this was bad enough, but it was the rumours about others – some say four, some say nine, some are saying the numbers are still growing. And they’re being targeted for their social media accounts. “I know,” I said, “I’m pushing my luck.” My sister laughed. “You were pushing your luck a few years ago. Now? Now I just think you don’t even care about your safety.” I sat and listened to her silently, watching at an ant as it crawled across my shoe. “If you don’t care about yourself, that’s your problem. But think about how you’re affecting the people around you. It’s not fair.” I promised her I would talk to my father and hung up.

I called my father later that night. We talked for a while, but he didn’t say anything so I finally said, “Baba, I don’t want you to be worried. I’ll quit everything. I don’t really know why I do it anyway.” He was silent. He said, “You always told me you were very careful. Are you worried about something?” I told him, no, I’m very careful. Sometimes I think I’m paranoid, even. But I don’t want him to worry. He snapped at me. “Beta, if you make yourself disappear, then what was the point?” I was stunned. “Listen to me,” he sounded angry, “You are a man, no? Will you hide yourself? Will you wear burqa? No! Be a man! I don’t always agree with you. Sometimes I think you are foolish. But it is your right to be foolish! When I was your age we sat around for hours arguing with each other and no one cared because no one heard us. Now, it is the internet and people are hearing you.” I said, no, no one listens to me. This only made him angrier. “And they will listen when you stop talking? Don’t be stupid! Whatever is happening is only because all of you on the internet must be making some difference.”

There was a moment of silence, then my father sighed deeply. “Beta, listen to me. You are my son. I will worry about you for trying to make a difference. It is my right as your father. However, I will worry about you more if you give up.”

Honestly, I do not know what to think of this situation we are in. It’s easy to believe that agencies are involved. History does not give them a clean chit. But the sad truth is it could be anyone that is behind these disappearances. Extremist groups have also tried to silence secular activists. Can we ever forget the words of Sabeen Mahmud’s killer?

“There wasn’t one particular reason to target her: she was generally promoting liberal, secular values. There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [in Islamabad], Pyaar ho jaane do (let there be love) on Valentine’s Day and so on.”

There are forces that are out to silence anyone who challenges their ideology. They are well armed with guns and bombs, but is truth and ideas that will defeat them. They lurk in the shadows, trying to make us silence ourselves. If not, they will reach out from the shadows and silence one of us to send a message. But theirs is an impossible mission. The truth is not a fragile flower than bruises and wilts so easily. It is a hearty plant, deeply rooted and native to this soil. And it has grown into a forest that provides shelter to those who embrace it. They can kidnap a blogger. They can shut down a social media account. But they can never disappear the truth. In the end, we will win.

Tayyaba is ‘make or break’ case for justice system

TayyabaThe Tayyaba case is a disturbing mirror turned on the face of our society. In it we are forced to face the realities of child labour, child abuse, and abuse of power by state authorities. Privately, we know that this is not the first case of its type. But maybe it could move us away from this reality. Because it has received global attention through social media, there may be a possibility to turn the tide toward reforming one part of our broken justice system.

The most shocking part of the Tayyaba case is, sadly, not the child abuse which is known as a rampant problem in our society. It is the fact that the torture and abuse was allegedly done by Sessions Judge, Islamabad, Raja Khurram Ali Khan, who sought to escape justice himself by getting ‘forgiveness‘ from the father of the victim. This brought outrage among the public who saw a clear abuse of power and attempt to escape justice by the judge. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has declared that it is taking suo moto notice of the case, which gave some hope for justice. Then, almost predictably, a new twist was introduced when young Tayyaba disappeared.

Last month, we learned that no less than former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was openly defying the Court and refusing to return a taxpayer owned bulletproof car that had been loaned to him while he was serving his country. Now we are witnessing a case where a Sessions Judge is trying to escape justice by turning to legal loopholes and other tricks.

The Supreme Court should take a lesson from former COAS Gen Raheel who dismissed 6 officers over corruption. By holding his own men to account, he strengthened the integrity of his institution in the eyes of the people. If the Court is unable to hold its own people to account, faith in the justice system will continue to erode, which is a disaster we cannot afford.