Pakistan has one of the strictest anti-blasphemy laws in the world and vigilantes have often been known to attack and kill people suspected of blasphemy. While Ahmadis and Christians have been the key targets, there has been a steady rise in Shias being accused and attacked on grounds of blasphemy. While anti-Shia sectarianism has been rampant in Pakistan since the 1980s, this is an alarming trend.
With the holy month of Muharram just coming to an end, Sunni clerics belonging to the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Tanzim-e-Islami, and Jamaat-e-Islami, “condemned the alleged blasphemy against the companions of Holy Prophet (PBUH) during a Muharram procession in Karachi, demanding the government immediately arrest and punish the culprits for maintaining sectarian peace in the country.”
What is worrying is that the police “registered a case against a cleric under Section 295-A/34 of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly passing blasphemous remarks on the Ashura day in Karachi. The FIR No 979/20 was registered on behalf of the state. The police also booked the permit holder of the Ashura procession and other members of the Ashura administration in the FIR. However, no arrest was made.”
Many Shia organisations “demanded withdrawal of the blasphemy case against ulema and azadar bodies, saying all sects were free to follow their religious occasions.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed grave concern “at the recent surge in blasphemy cases being registered against sectarian and religious minorities, particularly the Shia community, and the potential for ensuing sectarian violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that over 40 such cases may have been registered under the blasphemy laws in the last month alone. HRCP believes that the state has effectively abdicated its responsibilities under international human rights law by leaving those accused of blasphemy to the mercy of mobs, or trials that are marred by glaring legal and procedural flaws. It is well established that in most cases, those accused of blasphemy are eventually acquitted on appeal, but often after protracted periods in custody and trials that risk the lives of the accused, their lawyers and judges at the hands of organised far-right groups. HRCP demands that the state uphold all citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief. The police must also refrain from registering blasphemy cases so promptly, knowing full well the sensitive implications of doing so when such complaints are often fabricated and spurred on by personal vendettas.”