The decision by the Supreme Court to order the registration of an FIR for blasphemy against Sherry Rehman has lead to much outrage and alarm amongst Pakistan’s small and perpetually beleaguered group of liberals. The alarm is justified. Frankly, so is the outrage.
Before I explain myself, a brief summary of the facts. Sherry Rehman appeared on television on January 19, 2011, in a show broadcast by Dunya TV from Islamabad. During that show she elaborated her views as to why the blasphemy laws of this country needed to be amended. Subsequently, a gentleman by the name of Muhammad Faheem Akhtar Gill saw the programme at his house in Multan. He came to the conclusion that Ms Rehman’s comments were tantamount to blasphemy and accordingly filed a complaint at a police station in Multan seeking the registration of a criminal case against Ms Rehman. The local police station refused to register the FIR on the grounds that the crime, if any, had occurred in Islamabad and that Mr Gill should therefore go to Islamabad to pursue his grievance. Both the sessions court (to whom Mr Gill first went) and the Lahore High Court at Multan (to whom Mr Gill appealed the decision of the sessions court) agreed with the local police. Mr Gill therefore took his grievance to the Supreme Court.