While the state becomes the sole complainant in the brutal torture and burning to death of young Christian couple Shama and Shahzad on November 4 in Kot Radha Kishan, the hunt for alleged blasphemers in Pakistan goes on.
A few weeks ago, the police raided a Christian neighbourhood near Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and arrested Qaiser Ayub, 40, who was accused of posting blasphemous comments about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on internet five years ago. The accused, along with his family, remained in hiding at different places after the accusation of blasphemy. Blasphemy charge if proved is punishable with death sentence in Pakistani law. A case of blasphemy was registered against Qaiser and his younger brother Amoon Ayub in June 2011 in Talagang city, district Chakwal, which is about 280 kilometres from Lahore.
The accused was handed over to Chakwal police which put him in jail following a judicial remand obtained from the local court.
Last week, Junaid Jamshaid, country’s top pop singer-turned preacher, was booked in Karachi for attributing ‘disgraceful’ remarks to a wife of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The announcements against the Kot Radha Kishan couple were made on loudspeakers by local clerics. A high level inquiry team, constituted by the Punjab chief minister, has termed the couple innocent, urging strict punishment to the perpetrators of this unforgettable crime.
The government has made a police officer complainant in the case to set an example for those who take law in their own hands and pre-empt any attempt for compromise to possibly halt the court proceedings.
This is a test case “for the government to demonstrate — for once — its commitment to the rule of law in incidents where the vulnerable are attacked,” Zohra Yusuf, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
“For the first time, the state has become a petitioner in the case and appointed a minister, Kamran Michael, to be the focal person in the case. However, we cannot hold our breath expecting justice to be miraculously delivered,” she hopes.
Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer working on human rights issues, views the state becoming complainant “a small step in the right direction in which the seriousness of the state to pursue the case is yet to be seen.” He tells TNS that though the state has not added any private complainant in the lynching of Christian couple, the state is always a party to any crime that happens in society. Crime between the two parties or any violence is not only a matter between two groups, as per law, he says.
Ijaz says such moves on the part of the state are more symbolic. “What will be the legal change? How does it improve prosecution? That is the question.” The state itself projects an ideology in the name of religion. “This is a fundamental contradiction and for its solution the realisation has to come from the top.”
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The global outrage at Kot Radha Kishan Christian couple’s killing has also shaken many right wing political parties and religious clerics. Pakistan Ulema Council held a couple of big gatherings inviting bishops and condemning the act, while chief of another religio-political party Jamaat-e-Islami also visited the family and termed this violence unprecedented, un-Islamic and inhuman. Noted human rights activist Asma Jahangir, in a recent interview, termed this development positive and a big change in the attitude of Islamic clerics and right wing groups to stop misuse of the blasphemy law.
In the past perpetrators of violence against members of minority communities have been seen to go scot-free for which both the administration and the judiciary are held responsible.
Peter Jacob, former executive director of a church supported rights based organisation National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), however, thinks the state becoming complainant in Kot Radha Kishan case won’t make much of a difference. “It is inevitable in criminal cases that state is a party in non-compoundable offence.” He thinks such moves are merely tactics to appease public and media. They do not lead to any solution towards these sensitive and important matters.
He says in previous cases when the complainants were private organisations or the victims’ family members, they could not appear in the court for reasons of security. Rather than protecting the witnesses or complainants, the margin of doubt is given to the offenders in mob-violence incidents. “These things go in the favour of offender rather than the victim, despite the fact that state prosecutor is present in court,” he says.
He calls for practical steps to control such violence. “Gojra violence commission headed by Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman gave ten recommendations in its inquiry report to stop such incidents in future but not a single one has been implemented or adopted by the government yet,” he says.
The inquiry tribunal in Gojra had clearly suggested revising the criminal procedural code and improving investigation methods in such cases, says Jacob. “Rather than going for reforms, the government is taking such incidents to Anti Terrorist Courts which gives decisions in a few months but its standard of gathering and testing evidence is weak. Police can take the accused persons or any one into custody without proper evidence.”
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“I believe the normal courts are much better for in-depth investigations and testing of evidence in these cases. What we need is improvement in normal criminal justice system,” says Jacob. Such sentences by the ATCs are many a time overturned in the appellate courts. Giving an example, Jacob says in the most highlighted Mukhtaran Mai’s rape case, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned the ATC decision because the police had not gathered evidence beyond reasonable doubt. “Mainly, because the anti-terrorist law is unfit to deal with routine crimes. Miscarriage of justice should be attributed to wrong choice of law, faulty criminal investigation and wrong perception that anti-terrorism law might mean severe punishment or fair trial. It is in fact contrary to this perception.”
Strong and constant political will, overhauled criminal justice system can improve things, he expresses.
A senior police cop serving in Punjab, however, sees it difficult to ensure justice in such religious mob violence cases. “If you see the history of mob violence, culprits are hardly punished,” he says, asking not to be named.
On February 14, 2006, a religiously charged mob of several hundred killed two persons, looted and plundered local markets — apparently a protest against blasphemous cartoons. The Punjab government of PML-N in late 2010 withdrew charges of riots and vandalism at The Mall, Lahore, against different clerics.
The protestors, including many clerics, were charged under Anti-Terrorism Act. After a meeting of clerics with the then Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif (who is also the sitting CM), the Punjab government withdrew cases against certain clerics. “The facts of the cases against the aforementioned accused persons in the First Information Reports (FIRs) have been considered and it has been found that the prosecution of these cases is no more required,” the official notification read.