Challenging writ of the state

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It is very unfortunate that despite Govt warnings, protest against Aasia’s acquittal continues. Many roads still empty and certain routes are blocked in major cities across the country as religious parties continued to protest following a Supreme Court verdict acquitting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations.

In Karachi, traffic has been blocked at nine places owing to the ongoing protests. Star Gate at Shahrah-e-Faisal, Numaish, Liaquatabad No 10, Sohrab Goth, Korangi No 5, Bara Board, Baldia No 4 and New Karachi have been blocked for traffic.

Meanwhile, in Lahore, Charring Cross at Mall Road, Data Darbar and Shahdara Chowk have been blocked.

The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Faizabad Interchange is also blocked.

According to a motorways spokesperson, Pindi Bhattian-Lahore, Pindi Bhattian-Faisalabad and Faisalabad-Gojra motorway are blocked for traffic.

And behind all this, the main group is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan – an extremist group that is directly inspired by Governor Salman Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri.

Time has come to take note of the extremist decisions by the TLP and the state should not show cowardice. Just imagine, its leaders can hurl the worst abuses at the judiciary and nothing is done to them.

They take over our streets and the police can only watch on helplessly. One wonder at the impunity with which Khadim Hussain Rizvi spewed hate speech against the judiciary, military and government yesterday. The state should no longer tolerate it. Already, we have lost Governor Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti to such hatred spewed by extremists.

As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court judges have shown courage and integrity by upholding justice in the Aasia Bibi case, as have others in similar cases in the past. And every sensible majority has their weight behind the Supreme Court of Pakistan after its landmark judgment in Asia Bibi case.

One must agree with PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who said after the landmark judgment: The Supreme Court is our national institution. All other institutions, including the National Assembly, should stand with the Supreme Court. We cannot run the country from the streets. We can [only] run this country according to the Constitution and law.

Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, was condemned to death in 2010 on charges of blasphemy. Her appeal against the convicted was rejected by the Lahore High Court in 2014.

Shortly after the verdict, TLP supporters took to the streets in many cities to protest the court’s verdict.

The irony is that Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and Jamaat-i-Islami’s Islamabad chapter have also supported the protest against the verdict. This strain of hatred and intolerance that has infected our country needs to be dealt with firmly.

Meanwhile analysts say that in the larger debate about the misuse of blasphemy laws, the street power of violent extremists and the cowardice of too many politicians, this should not be forgotten.

The majority opinion in the verdict found many problems with the prosecution’s case while the blistering concurring opinion by Justice Asif Khosa said there was evidence to suggest that her accusers had knowingly made a false accusation of blasphemy, and said that the confession that Aasia Bibi was supposed to have made “was nothing short of a concoction”. Justice Khosa also noted the inordinate delay in filing an FIR and discrepancies in the testimony of witnesses.

Legal experts say that whether out of fear, ignorance or a base motive, the lower courts give too much credence to accusations even when all the evidence points to the fact that they are false. There is a dire need to reform the system. Those who deliberately make false accusations of blasphemy need to be prosecuted with the same vigour as those who are accused of the crime. It is dangerous now to even suggest amending the laws but at the very least the existing law has to be applied equally to the accuser and the accused.

This is also a moment to ponder over the fact, how extreme some organizations have become in their conduct. They provoke people’s sentiment and they know the art of how to use mere allegation of blasphemy, however flimsy, to trigger horrific violence. Even an acquittal by the apex court – as in the present instance – can provoke right-wing elements to threaten mayhem on the streets.

The verdict itself referenced one of the most savage murders provoked by allegations of blasphemy – that of Mashal Khan, bludgeoned and shot dead in 2017 by a mob of fellow students.

Indeed, many blasphemy allegations are rooted in personal enmity and a desire to appropriate the victim’s property. But that is immaterial in the eyes of some sections of society; to them, those accused of blasphemy are guilty in perpetuity, legitimate targets for vigilante violence regardless of whether the criminal justice system exonerates them. Indeed, even lawyers who defend such accused in court, and judges who find them not guilty, and others put themselves in peril. Some have paid the ultimate price. Governor Salman Taseer is a case in point.

But now time has come to adhere to judicial decisions and act upon them strongly. There is no room for extremists groups to take the society as hostage and ignite violence in the society. Such extremist forces should be dealt with iron hand.