The police in Pakistan have registered a case of blasphemy against 68 lawyers who made a public protest against a police officer who allegedly illegally detained one of their colleagues. This incident took place in a small city south of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
During the protest the lawyers shouted slogans against the police officer named Umar Daraz, that landed them in deeper trouble than they could have ever expected.
The name ‘Umar’ happens to be that of a prominent figure in Islamic history and the blasphemy charges against the lawyers are based on them touting slogans against a policeman with this name.
Though cases of blasphemy and resulting violence isn’t a new phenomenon in Pakistan, this particular case just goes to show how ridiculous it all is.
In this case, you have policeman who is not just misusing his power in public office and is corrupt, but because he is named after a revered personality from Islamic history, it becomes deadly to say anything against him.
The law of blasphemy in Pakistan takes its roots from the country’s colonial past when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent, which includes present-day Pakistan. While this law carries the death penalty it loosely defines what can actually be considered blasphemy. This leaves room for it to be used as a tool against just about anyone.
In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where religion trumps everything else, no one dares question a blasphemy charge. Perhaps everyone knows that questioning it would land one in the same pit; that of blasphemy.
A 2012 report showed blasphemy cases spiked in Pakistan with 80 complaints in 2011, up from a single case in 2001.
Over the past few years, things have further deteriorated, two politicians have been killed over trying to reform the blasphemy law. One of the assassinated leaders was the governor of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab. Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman was charged with blasphemy and threatened for demanding reforms in the country’s blasphemy laws. Even judges who free those accused of blasphemy or convict those who have committed crimes against alleged blasphemers fear for their lives.
Those who kill in the name of blasphemy are usually hailed as heroes, as was the murderer of the assassinated governor.
That unfortunately is not all. Places of worship of religions other than Islam are often targeted and apart from a rare case; that usually is not taken as an affront against a religion or blasphemy.
Recently, during a hearing of a Church bombing, a legislator and representative of Pakistan’s minority Hindu community told the court that despite being reported, the police did not take any actions against six incidents of places of worship and religious material being desecrated.
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When the lawyer was asked whether the reports of the incidents were registered specifically against the desecration of minorities’ places of worship, the stark reply was,“There is no specific law for such issues.”
On a brighter side, recently the Chief Justice of Pakistan announced that according to the Pakistan Penal Code, offense against any religion and not just Islam comes under the blasphemy laws.
However, all signs show it will be a long time before religion and alleged crimes and affronts against it are taken rationally in Pakistan. One can only hope otherwise.