An innocent Pakistani Christian, Sawan Masih, has been sentenced to death over alleged blasphemy. Apart from resulting in gross human rights violations, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan have given us, and more generally Muslims, a bad name internationally. The news about Sawan Masih has now spread all over the world. Yet in Pakistan, apart from two female parliamentarians (Shireen Mazari and Shazia Marri), there is fearful silence being maintained by our ‘democratically elected leaders.’
I hang my head in shame today – in utter disgust at the state of affairs in Pakistan. Sawan Masih is not the first innocent man to suffer due to misuse of the draconian blasphemy law. One would think with a majority Muslim population, the State religion (Islam) would be under no threat to begin with. Those who have advocated amendment of the law have been labelled ‘blasphemers’ and subsequently been killed (including then-governor of Punjab, Taseer, and minority representative, Bhatti).
The main concern over the blasphemy law is the fact that anyone can be sentenced to death over an ‘alleged’ offence. It is irrelevant whether the sentence is ever carried out due to the extreme persecution faced by the families of the stigmatised. Bear in mind that Sawan Masih, like others before him, was sentenced on the basis of evidence (of an oral conversation) provided by a “Muslim friend” who was in the midst of a property dispute with Masih. Even to someone with no understanding of the law at all, it is crystal clear that such evidence simply cannot hold up in any court of law, let alone be used to justify an imposition of the death sentence. This one man was an easy target for the courts in Pakistan. They sentenced him to death for alleged blasphemy while letting off the three thousand Muslims who had torched one hundred Christian homes as a reaction to Masih’s alleged blasphemy. In fact, at the time this ‘vigilante justice’ was carried out, the Court had not even ruled on Masih’s ‘guilt’.
When PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf/Pakistan Movement for Justice) Parliamentarian, Dr. Mazari brought the Sawan Masih issue up in the National Assembly, members of the Federal Government could not even spare one word of condemnation against the clearly discriminatory judgment. It is this attitude of callous indifference that has resulted in the blasphemy law remaining intact in the status quo. The state of affairs cannot persist: the blasphemy law in Pakistan must be repealed. As it stands today, the law is not about defending “Islam.” The evidentiary requirements for a charge of ‘blasphemy’ are so easy to manipulate that any individual could get someone thrown in jail over a mere personal rivalry.
Pressure to repeal it might ensure that human beings (regardless of their religion) in Pakistan may live to see another day. Such shameful blatant persecution and oppression of minorities cannot go unnoticed. Sawan Masih is part of a minority that is already under constant attack. As part of the Muslim majority, I have seen this law defame Islam more than it has protected it. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, with justice as its fundamental tenet. How, then, can we allow a law, meant to preserve Islam, weaken and disrespect it’s very foundations?
Imaan Mazari is a third year law student at the University of Edinburgh. She has been politically and socially active in Pakistan since 2006, having worked as Media Spokesperson of Pakistan Youth Alliance and Responsible Citizens. She was briefly active in party politics through her involvement in Pakistan Movement for Justice/Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Currently, Imaan manages her own blog whilst actively engaging in anti-drone and anti-terrorism initiatives. She is also the Chairman of Suspended Meals Pakistan Trust which focuses on poverty alleviation initiatives in Islamabad’s slums.