As Pakistanis and as champions of freedoms of various hues, we at New-Pakistan welcome the landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to finally acquit 47-year old Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death. However, we are deeply concerned about the environment created over the years that has allowed the misuse of blasphemy laws not only against religious minorities but against anyone who seeks to speak up against them. The protests against this verdict and the challenge to state authority led by the latest Frankenstein monster, the Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan, are worrying and troublesome.
As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated in a recent statement “while there is every reason to be relieved that Aasia Bibi has been acquitted after eight years of incarceration in the perpetual shadow of a death sentence, that Pakistan should have come this close to executing a woman for ‘blasphemy’ is a sobering thought.”
Further, “with at least 40 other people reportedly on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, both the state and civil society need to introspect. From a human rights perspective, the Supreme Court’s detailed judgment underlines several of the most problematic aspects of applying the blasphemy laws. The presumption of innocence is too easily buried by moral outrage, which invariably pits the vulnerable and underprivileged against those in majority. Moreover, the evidence of extrajudicial confession cannot be allowed to hold any legal worth.”
Pakistan has seen the continued rise of new radical groups that preach hatred and violence against anyone who disagrees with their point of view. The Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has street power but has gained in political strength during the recent elections.
HRCP expressed concern over, “the vicious reaction of all far-right religious-political groups who have taken to violent protests and openly threatened the lives of those associated with this case. While we welcome the government’s stance that the rule of law must be upheld, HRCP urges the state to make it perfectly clear that any party’s incitement to religious hatred – notably that of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan – will not be tolerated and is punishable under the law. Moreover, while it is critical that the judges and lawyers associated with this and similar cases be provided adequate security, this is a short-term solution to a longer, harder battle. Ultimately, the state must consider reforming the blasphemy laws in the interest of applying the law to all its citizens fairly, irrespective of their faith.’”
Over the years Pakistan has lost political leaders– like Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti – lawyers and human rights activists – Rashed Rahman – and countless others still lie in prison or have had to flee the country.
This needs to stop and we need to take a collective stand.