For the first time since punishments for blasphemy in Pakistan were enhanced to the death penalty and life imprisonment, an ‘accused’ has been released on bail. In the past, those released as innocent were either killed or had to leave the country for fear of their lives. This ‘holy law’ has seen innumerable people languishing in jail and having their lives ruined only because an accusation against them is considered beyond investigation or evidential proof. For years, especially since General Ziaul Haq made the amendments to the blasphemy law, civil society, rights groups and the media had been exposing its misuse and how even Muslims, and the minorities, had been targeted in the name of blasphemy. The defenders of the law would always see a conspiracy against Islam whenever a word to amend the existing blasphemy law is advised.
However, the truth is that no one, not even the late Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer or Federal Minister for Minorities late Shahbaz Bhatti condemned the law. They only cautioned against its misuse and had requested revisiting it so that all those loopholes could be plugged that have made the law a tool of harassment. But unfortunately, instead of heeding these rational pleas, the sane voices were muted forever.
Rimsha is released, but obviously her and her family’s life is in danger due to the fanatics having a field day in this country for lack of law and order and timid political will of the government to grab them. On release, Rimsha is transported to an unknown place. Interestingly, on the one hand the authorities held Rimsha in prison and on the other defended her case on every forum and now are providing her safety. This dichotomy of purpose shows the overwhelming fear of the clergy in our decision makers.
It is this fear that many think would come into play in going soft on the main culprit Khalid Jadoon, the prayer leader who tampered with the evidence and falsely accused Rimsha of blasphemy. The assassin of Salmaan Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, was garlanded and none other but the former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Khwaja Sharif is fighting his case and rallied a crowd to protect Mumtaz. If such be the outcome of Rimsha’s case as well, and if Khalid and his like are not prosecuted, Pakistan would slip deeper into fanaticism, allowing daring similar fraudulent attempts on the religious and sectarian front.
The timing is right for the government to reconsider the implications and outcomes of the blasphemy law. This is perhaps the first time that someone from the mainstream clergy has condemned the arrest of a young girl of diminished mental capacity on blasphemy charges. The heinous practice of misusing the blasphemy law should come to an end.