The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

Misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Sunday, 23 January 2022, 08:25 Last update: about 5 months ago

Laiq Ahmed Atif

In life, sometimes we come across such experiences that are so unbearable and painful that they remain etched in our memories for many years to come. Such is the case with the heart-rending incident of the brutal murder of Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot, Pakistan, in December 2021.

According to reports, Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national who was also a Hindu, was attacked by “hundreds of men and young boys” who tortured the man to death before proceeding to burn his body, accusing him of blasphemy. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws criminalise anyone who insults Islam, including by outraging religious feeling (Section 295-A), defiling the Quran (Section 295-B) and defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad (Section 295-C), which carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. The laws are open to misuse and often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property or business. Blasphemy accusations can also have an impact beyond that on the accused and often trigger mass violence against minority communities.

This shocking incident had once again shaken the conscience of the world and drawn their attention to Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, which are wholly incompatible with the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief and must be repealed without any further delay to avoid any further brutal killings. Government should put an end to the atrocities committed by such blood-thirsty and so-called humans who are actually monsters and beasts.

Such spiteful incidents have become a way of life in Pakistan; such brutalities and atrocities are considered normal and the extremist organisations seemed to have overpowered the law enforcing agencies and even the judiciary has succumbed to their pressures. No religious minority is safe in Pakistan. We have seen time after time that whenever these extremists wish to do so, they invent false allegations against anyone and instigate violence and bloodshed.

The torture, violence and brutality that were committed against Priyantha Diyawadana cannot even be put into words. Such atrocities are not only wholly condemnable, but such abhorrence and vicious act should never be allowed in any society and the entire world should join hands against it in making a case that should pave the way to repeal such blasphemous laws.

This horrendous act was done in the name of Islam, the religion that claims that the unjust murder of a single soul is like the killing of all humanity (5:33), the religion that teaches tolerance, harmony, forbearance, freedom of speech and religion (2:257).

They have committed such abhorring murder in the name of God – that God who is Lord of All worlds, Gracious and Merciful and in the name of Prophet Muhammad who was “sent as a mercy for all peoples” (21:108). They shamelessly commit these barbaric acts in the name of God and His Prophet.

I think the time has come to “call a spade a spade” and to put pressure on the Pakistani government to honour the United Nation’s Human Rights Charter to which it is a signatory.

As usual, we heard the hollow claims from the Prime Minister: “All those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law.” But in reality nothing has changed since.

I am failing to understand which law the honourable Prime Minister was referring to; the same law that carries the death penalty or life imprisonment for any blasphemous accusations which has been used for decades against religious minorities?

The time has come so that “justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done”. Fundamental human rights of every human being should be honoured and any such violation should be dealt with swift action.

However, would this happen? The unfortunate reality is that this does not seem to be happening anytime in the near future. A few weeks prior to this incident, we had seen the same government negotiating with one of the extremist groups, Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), giving into their pressure and signing a deal with them that paved the way to release their leader. Furthermore, the world also witnessed a government senator presenting a bouquet to TLP chief Saad Rizvi after bail.

The questions arise: what has led to such intolerance in the society and who is responsible for this downfall and degradation?

This is a result of nurturing the plants of extremism for political and religious power for many decades and using religion for political interests and politics for religious strongholds. First and foremost, the blame lies on the religious clerics who have misguided the nation and issued violent edicts. Secondly, governments – both past and present – are responsible for letting this poison spread across the country and have used it for their political objectives. Law-makers, judiciary, establishment and local media are all also responsible for fanning the flames.

Therefore, all the stakeholders have to understand that peace and human dignity is fundamental to their prosperous existence. The whole nation should learn the principle of respect, freedom, “live and let live” and must collectively nurture these core values to create a society based on justice that is free from violence and one that ultimately prospers in the long run. They must make “Love for all, hatred for none” their guiding principle so as a nation they become a moderate and civilized nation.

 

Laiq Ahmed Atif is president Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta

 

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