Punjab Assembly calls for stricter law against blasphemy
At least 65 people accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad have been killed outside the courtroom before their guilt was ascertained. Activist complains that justice for the accused has been denied and delayed. The blasphemy legislation is used to settle personal disputes quickly.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Punjab’s Provincial Assembly on 31 December unanimously passed a resolution calling on the central government to adopt stricter laws to punish blasphemy.
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an inter-denominational organisation that offers free legal support to victims of religious intolerance in Pakistan, slammed the resolution.
For CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed, there is no need to make the law more stringent; on the contrary, there is an urgent need to stop its ongoing misuse.
Every year, scores of people are accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Muslim extremists often react very violently even if there is only a suspicion of blasphemy.
The existing blasphemy legislation disproportionately affects religious minorities, especially Christians, but Muslims have also been charged for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
For years, activists have complained that blasphemy charges have been used in personal quarrels to quickly settle disputes over land and property.
Punjab MPAs believe instead that the current law is not correctly enforced, suggesting that blasphemy is tolerated under the disguise of freedom of expression.
“There are hundreds of innocent people who have been languishing in jails for years as the courts delay their case hearings unnecessarily,” Nasir Saeed said.
“Intentionally and unintentionally these cases take longer than normal cases and judges – especially of the lower courts – avoid hearing these cases because of pressure from Islamic groups.”
CLAAS director notes some striking examples of justice denied and delayed due to the climate of intimidation created by extremists.
First of all, there is the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian mother who spent nine years in prison. Secondly, there is that of Wajih-ul-Hassan, acquitted by the Supreme Court last September after 18 years in prison. Finally, Imran Masih, who has spent ten years behind bars, is still waiting for a final hearing by the Lahore High Court.
According to CLAAS, some 65 people have been killed extra judicially whilst several others have been burnt alive with nobody been brought to justice for their death.
Two prominent politicians who had opposed the abusive use of the law were killed in broad daylight: Salman Taseer, a Muslim, then Governor of Punjab, was killed in January 2011 by his bodyguard because he wanted to ask a pardon for Asia Bibi; and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities at the time of his death, killed a few months later.