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Pakistan:68 lawyers charged for challenging police authority

AHRC-STM-089-2014
May 15, 2014
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: In a mockery of the blasphemy law 68 lawyers were charged for challenging the authority of the police

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, interpreted the much talked about blasphemy law in a timely and appropriate manner. He made an observation in a sou moto case of the desecration of places of religion belonging to the minorities, that there should be thorough and impartial investigations into complaints of blasphemy so that no innocent is embroiled in litigation and receives punishment.

It was an important observation by the CJ that the law is used unscrupulously by persons in order to settle personal disputes, enforced conversion, land grabbing and the killing of innocents. The accusers, even when the case is proved to be false are never held to account for making such accusations.

The Blasphemy Law is the most controversial of all Pakistani laws, which has now become a convenient tool for anyone to malign opponents for their personal protection and interests. The law is being applied to protest or agitate against anyone who might have used the name of some sacred personality, whether intentionally or otherwise. It must be asked how a blasphemy case is applicable to a protest and this is where the sheer lunacy comes in; the lawyers from Jhang district were voicing their anger at what they alleged was the illegal detention of one of their colleagues. During the protest they raised slogans against the Station House Officer (SHO), Umar Daraz.

On May 12, the Jhang police brought a charge of blasphemy against 68 lawyers on the complaint of Mr. Arshad Mehmood, a member of a religious group, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), a front organisation for a banned Sunni sectarian group linked to the deaths of hundreds of Shiite Muslims. There was obvious collusion between the complainant and the police who seemed to be looking for revenge against the lawyers. They were more than happy to file a charge of blasphemy against the lawyers. In the FIR against the complainant accused that during the protest the lawyers were shouting slogans with the name of 'Umar Daraz' and the mention of the name, 'Umar' had hurt the complainant's religious emotions as the name of Umar is attributed to the name of the second Caliph of Islam.

It is important to note that the name of the SHO, Mr. Umar Daraz, is in no way similar to the Second Caliph of the Prophet, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Umar Daraz is a Persian term which means 'long life' and it is used in the names of male children in the hopes that the persons will enjoy a long life. The police tried to use cheap religious sentiments in favour of the SHO.

The SHO in question is a close relative of the provincial law minister of Punjab who is famous for having close relations with banned sectarian religious organisations. The Kotwali police registered a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 295/A of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy law) against eight named and 60 unnamed members of the District Bar Association of Jhang.

The blasphemy case against the lawyers is the best example that to obtain revenge against any opposite party he or them may be maligned as blasphemers.

In this incident however, the police, instead of holding a proper investigation and legal procedures in the case of Lawyer Nadeem, they have taken shelter behind the popular sentiments of religion in order to provoke Muslims in general against the lawyers. 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. This organisation has forced the district bar association to surrender before them. The ASWJ accepted the apology but has still not withdrawn its complaint against the lawyers.

Still the police have the upper hand and at any time they can arrest the lawyers named in the FIR and therefore the lawyers will remain under the sword of the blasphemy law and can receive the maximum sentence according to the law. It is because of this that the lawyers named in the FIR are unable to agitate against the highhandedness of the police, arbitrary arrest, torture in custody and even extrajudicial killing.

The authorities must understand that the blasphemy laws are being used, more and more as a lethal weapon in the hands of Muslim extremists, powerful groups and now even the police in order to suppress the most important section of society, the lawyers. The Kotwali Police Station, Jhang district, has led the way for the police in general to hide their crimes by the use of extremist organisations in order to suppress civil society and the activists through the blasphemy laws.

Civil society and human rights organisations have been demanding for three decades that the blasphemy laws should be repealed but successive governments have retained it as, while the accuser and the accused struggle and fight, the state can remain a spectator which is a good way to appease the fundamentalists. During the last days of the Musharraf government an ordinance was promulgated through which the false accuser would also be punished under the blasphemy law but it was not passed by parliament and died a death.

However, it would be a dangerous precedent if the law can be used to strangle the freedom of expression and thought and even the adoption of belief. It is also very dangerous for the right to the freedom of individuals. The days are not far off when the police will use blasphemy laws to quell the voices against torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings.

The government of Pakistan, particularly the government of Punjab must take legal action against the police officers of Jhang district for filing a false case of blasphemy and they instead should be booked on the same law. The case of blasphemy against 68 lawyers must be withdrawn immediately.

Pakistan has been converted into a primitive society and if such misuse of the blasphemy law is allowed to continue then no one will be spared from being declared a blasphemer. Lynching will become the order of the day and even the people sitting in the government might not be spared.

The government and the parliamentarians must repeal the blasphemy law without delay and make a better law for the sanctity and respect of every religious sentiment. It must not allow the people to use the law for their personal vendettas. Complaints about blasphemy can be thoroughly investigated by the highest police officer of the district before a case is filed. In order to restrict the misuse of the law the government must stop the use of loudspeakers for religious and sectarian purposes. The law of 2004 concerning the restriction of the use of loudspeakers must be taken out of cold storage and implemented.

ENDS

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