The plight of those accused under the blasphemy law is highly disturbing. A report in The Express Tribune highlighted the sad case of Hamid Hussain, who has been in prison since March 2012, and is currently in solitary confinement. Accused of distributing objectionable pamphlets, his case is unusual in that his name was apparently inserted in the FIR four months after it was first filed. Mr Hussain claims that he has been wrongfully implicated.
These prisoners face abuse of their rights in jail, with other prisoners, as well as jail officials, threatening them. The conditions in which they are kept are deplorable and they are kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time for reasons of “security”. Many of those accused of blasphemy in the past have been murdered in custody. The mental anguish these prisoners go through takes a toll on them; many face psychological problems and die in prison. It is the state’s responsibility to appoint competent lawyers to fight their cases but lawyers are often reluctant to endanger their own lives.
An estimated 1,274 people have been accused under the blasphemy law since 1986, when they were introduced by General Ziaul Haq, until 2010. The law is blatantly misused and has become a tool to victimise minorities. What is frightening is the currency that it has found among citizens, with religious zealotry and a growing intolerance becoming a hallmark of society. Punishment under the laws includes life imprisonment and the death penalty and while the death sentence has never been implemented, many are murdered before facing a fair trial. At times, on the exhortation of certain clerics, these murderers are celebrated rather than condemned, as was Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. The fact is that the blasphemy law is in urgent need of reform since, at present, it is often used to settle personal vendettas. It is high time that those who make false allegations of blasphemy are brought to the book themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2013.
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