Death sentence for ‘online blasphemy’

Source: Editorial of the Daily Times

Last weekend, a Pakistani citizen was sentenced to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media. Reportedly, Taimoor Raza — member of Shia community — had engaged in a contentious debate on Facebook.The counter terrorism department arrested him last year and the state has prosecuted him under charges of blasphemy and terrorism.

That Taimoor Raza was booked under anti-terrorism laws is even more worrying.Such laws have long been misused to include cases, which have nothing to do with terrorism. Why do these anti-terror laws become so ineffectual when a member of a militant group is charged under them? The courts have acquitted mass murderers and terrorists several times because of ‘lack of evidence’, but the justice system works rather swiftly when an allegation of blasphemy is made. An example of failure of Pakistan’s anti-terror laws and the justice system is the way the state got rid of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) chief Malik Ishaq, who was killed in a police encounter because the courts kept releasing him, despite Ishaq’s confessions of murdering many Shias and vowing to kill more. The weak justice system of Pakistan fails to bring terrorists to book and only goes after alleged ‘blasphemers’.

Much has been said on how the blasphemy law is misused to persecute minority groups and settle personal scores. After the Mashal Khan’s lynching incident, the state should have built a narrative against the practice of taking law into one’s own hands. Blasphemy law should have been reformed but the state did quite the opposite — it started using these laws to muzzle criticism. By using draconian laws to restrict free speech, the government is encouraging groups that have been taking law into their own hands in the past. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is issuing public messages warning people against posting blasphemous content. Progressive voices in Pakistan are currently under threat because the misuse of such draconian laws against difference of opinion has become easier. The state is enabling this process with dangerous consequences. Those who are celebrating this attack on free speech might be targeted next.

Details of Taimoor’s case are still emerging and it is hoped that the superior courts would look into the way this trial was held and also put an end to this blasphemer hunting game initiated by the executive authorities. It is nothing more than a convenient ploy to muzzle criticism of the government and the Army. There should be no doubt that our state is culpable in promoting extremism in the country. For decades, ruling classes have used religion for political gains. This has resulted in a fragmented and violent society. It is time to put an end to this dangerous opportunism.


Suggested reading

Freedom of Speech: A Core Islamic Value!

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