Free Speech Hypocrisy: Theirs…and Ours

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Debate about free speech has almost completely overshadowed the tragic 16th December attacks that supposedly marked a turning point in the nation. While that painful day will never be forgotten, it is hard not to think that we have moved on to a more convenient point of outrage – one that allows us to unite against an enemy that is much more convenient to rally against seeing as how they are in far away lands armed only with pens rather than our own backyard armed with guns and bombs. However pertaining to ‘freedom of speech’, there are certain double standards, however, that are glaring and must be given due consideration given the present controversies.

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Appeal to Authorities to Protect Ahmadi Citizens

Ahmadiyya Persecution Statistics

19 Ahmadis were killed in 2012. 7 were killed in 2013, but 16 more survived attempts on their lives. Ahmadis face discrimination and accusations from all corners, yet there has been nothing done to protect these citizens – and yes they are Pakistani citizens, even if Second Amendment and Ordinance XX relegate them to secondary status. This abandonment of our citizens has given a black eye to the nation and international outcry is beginning to rise. Today the Asian Human Rights Commission has issued urgent appeal for authorities to provide immediate protection to Ahmadis from targeting and persecution.

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-079-2014

Please write the letters to the authorities calling them to provide security to Ahmadiyya community without any lapse. The high police officers must be charged for the negligence for not providing security to a community which constantly remains under attack from fundamentalist Muslims. Ahmadis have all the constitutional rights of any citizen of Pakistan including the right to life. The Punjab government must initiate an enquiry into the target killings of Ahmadis.

The AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief and on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions calling for their intervention into this matter.

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The worst of the blasphemy law is yet to come

Anti-Geo TV messages

A blasphemy case has been registered under sections 295, 295C 298C and others against GEO media group owner, Mir Shakilur Rehman, anchor Shaista Lodhi, Veena Malik, Asad Khatak and other people, creating a new state of affairs.

Perhaps this is the first time that such high profile people have been charged under the blasphemy law and these are all very serious charges with the most severe punishment ranging up to the death penalty.

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Blasphemy Charges Against Lawyers: The Bigger Threat

The outrageous charges of blasphemy filed against 68 lawyers for protesting against police brutality is only the latest example of extremists defaming Pakistan in the world. International headlines have highlighted the misuse of blasphemy law, but there is an other element to the story that is receiving less attention but has much deeper consequences for the fate of the nation.

It would be bad enough if blasphemy laws were being misused in a revenge case by the police. What is more concerning, however, is that the victims of this case are mostly Shia lawyers, and the police used ASWJ – an extremist anti-Shia sectarian group – as their agent of revenge.

Among the lawyers framed in the FIR there are also a good number of lawyers from the Shia sect so that they would be easily made targets of the religious bigots and extremists.

The interesting point here is that the police enlisted the aid of a prominent religious group, the ASWJ, to file the blasphemy case in favour of the police. The ASWJ happily complied with the request by the police and offered its services as if it was looking for an opportunity to file a case of blasphemy.

Misuse of blasphemy laws is a serious issue. If police are believed to be working hand in hand with sectarian extremist groups, however, the consequences could be even more severe.

Why I Criticised Tahir Ashrafi

I have taken a lot of criticism for my last piece about Tahir Ashrafi. I expected the abuse from intolerant fanatics who subscribe to an extremist ideology. What I did not expect was the criticism from respected intellectuals who understand the problems inherent to the blasphemy laws as they exist. After re-reading my original piece, I realised that this should have been expected. In making one point clearly, I failed to address clearly the broader reason why we should not take comfort in the statements of people like Tahir Ashrafi. Please allow me to explain.

The problem I have with guys like Tahir Ashrafi is that they are playing us for fools. The case against Rimsha was so obscene that it threatened to expose the blasphemy laws as they exist for what they are – a tool of intimidation and persecution that serves to perpetuate the power of the right-wing Mullahstocracy.

When Tahir Ashrafi came out in defence of Rimsha, many took this as a sign of progress. I understand how natural it is to respond to a piece like Tahir Ashrafi’s by saying that such words should be encouraged. But, because of his (recent) past, it would be irresponsible to accept Ashrafi’s words without some scepticism. Nadir Hassan explains why:

Let us not delude ourselves into believing that the PUC can be even a temporary ally. Sure, when arguing the case for Rimsha’s release we can use the “even the PUC agrees with us” line as a debating point. But the focus should remain on the injustice of the blasphemy laws themselves, not the abuse of the laws.

Focusing on the way the laws are supposedly misused is being used as a utilitarian tactic to slowly change minds. What this approach ignores is that abuse is inherent to any law that criminalises speech and conduct. As long as we buy into the logic that the majority group deserves to be protected from any offense or criticism, we will continue to see minority groups be repressed for their beliefs. And when cases aren’t as clear-cut as that of Rimsha’s, we will be left speechless because there will be no obvious ‘abuse’ of these laws.

Let us for a moment consider how this whole drama could play out. For Ashrafi and the right-wing Mullahstocracy, the case against Rimsha was a PR disaster. The entire world was focused on the story of a mentally-disabled 11-year-old girl who was being threatened with death for a crime she could not possibly comprehend. The case reignited questions about how the blasphemy laws are used to intimidate, threaten, and persecute people for personal and political ends. In order to protect this tool of power, the Mullahs had to change the subject. So they started talking about how ‘abuse’ of the law should be stopped. This sounds reasonable, but only if it is considered outside the reality of history.

What Ashrafi and the rest of the Mullahstocracy realise is that, in the grander scheme, Rimsha and Imam Khalid Jadoon are mere pawns who can be sacrificed. By letting her go scot free and punishing the Imam, they will have set a precedent that strengthens their weapons against future criticism. After all, if Rimsha is set free and the Imam is punished, does this not prove that the laws are not being abused, and therefore any conviction must be legitimate?

This will be their argument the next time there is an Asia Bibi, or an Ranjah Masih or a Naushad Valiyani. Mohammad Hanif provides a sad and disturbing list of the victims of the Mullahstocracy’s weapon. Where was Tahir Ashrafi when these cases were taking place? He sat silently on the sidelines. The next time this weapon is used, however, he and the rest of the right-wing Mullahs will not have to sit silent. Their defence will be an 11-year-old girl named Rimsha. “See, we saved her from stoning. This proves that our decisions are just. Today we demand death.” Anyone defending the accused will be met with quick retorts of, “If he is innocent, why doesn’t even Tahir Ashrafi defend him?” And the persecution will go on as it has been.

Farahnaz Ispahani explained this, too, in a recent piece for Daily Times:

Mr Ashrafi and his colleagues want this case to be used to end discussion about the need to reform the Blasphemy Laws. They want Rimsha Masih’s case to be investigated and decided under a law that has been so massively abused that it needs fundamental review. But they would rather get mercy for Rimsha without challenging the structure and process that makes oppression of religious minorities possible.

This is why I do not greet these newly found words of Maulana Ashrafi with joy. Not because I resent his previous silence, or his speeches inciting hatred and violence against Pakistanis who do not subscribe to his personal ideology. It is because underneath the honey in his recent words is a razor dripping with the blood of innocents. And that, I cannot ignore.