Two human beings, accused of burning and throwing a copy of the Holy Quran in garbage, were beaten and torched to death by an enraged mob in Kot Radha Kishan, a town 60 kilometers away from Lahore. These two, Shahzad and Shama Masih were a Christian couple; parents of three and expecting their fourth child. They were bonded laborers in the very brick kiln whose furnace turned them to ashes on November 4th.
Drawing condemnation and demands for better security of the vulnerable minorities, this horrific incident also ignited the debate for the amendment in the controversial Anti-Blasphemy law present in the Pakistan Penal Code. Chapter XV mentions the laws against offenses relating to religion, in which article 295 dates back to the 1860s British era. In 1982, President Zia-ul-Haq introduced an ordinance that added a section to this law. Section 295-B states: “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.” PPC295C was inserted in 1982 with punishment of life imprisonment or fine for insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Later, an amendment to this law was made in 1986 to reflect punishment as death or life imprisonment.
Since its implementation, the law has been severely misused for individual monetary or political gains or to suppress and intimidate the members of minority groups. Incidents as meaningless as a spelling error by an eighth-grader, or throwing away of a business card, or chanting slogans are twisted and tainted to give the impression that a blasphemy has been committed. Such accusations are often a mask to cover up other ongoing disputes. And because the nature of the blasphemy issue is an extremely sensitive one, the claimed culprit ends up imprisoned and under threat until any decision by the court.
The aim behind formulating this law was to prevent people from taking matters into their own hands and serving justice to the accused blasphemers as they pleased. The whole intent and purpose of having a law to deal with an offence through legal means appears to have lost its credibility and it is the crux of the whole problem that surrounds the Blasphemy Law in the country. According to a CRSS report, no one has ever been executed for blasphemy under court orders. Instead, a plethora of incidents have been reported when the suspect has been mercilessly tortured and killed by angry individuals and violent mobs.
Derived from Islamic jurisprudence, the Anti Blasphemy law needs proper understanding and implementation rather than amending or repealing it altogether. A clear-cut definition of what counts as blasphemy, scrutiny of the witnesses and the proofs they provide; security for the suspect from vigilante mobs is need of the hour. State and state alone must dole out punishments according to the court verdict. Vigilantism can only be prevented through swift justice. An equally fitting penalty should be crafted for people who lodge fake blasphemy cases and for those who take matters in their brutal hands.
Turning into a crowd of ruthless killers, in the name of protecting a religion whose followers wish peace to each other with every greeting, is nothing short of sacrilege. Burning people for unproven allegations of insulting the very man (PBUH), who would plead for the wronged ones amongst ‘them’ on the Day of Judgment; is it less of a sin than what you accused them of?
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