3 Christians Convicted Under Blasphemy Laws in Two Monthsaugustine gill
By Kashif Nawab
As many as three accused, belonging to Christian community, were convicted on blasphemy charges during the past two months.
According to a report of National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP) titled: “Human Rights Monitor 2022; Report on Religious Minorities in Pakistan” published in June 2022, there were as many as 1761 accusations under the Blasphemy Law between the year 1987 to 2021. Among the total number of accused, 931 accusations were against Muslims, 530 against Ahmedis, 41 accusations against Hindus and 246 against Christians, says the Report.
It also shows that the majority of the cases were recorded in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Another report published by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) titled: ‘Human Rights Observer 2022’, says that as many as 84 cases of blasphemy have been registered in the year 2021 in which 68 cases have taken place in Punjab. The Report claims that the minorities are affected 46% out of the total number of accusations made.
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws were revised under the process of Islamization introduced during General Zia-ul-Haq’s era of 1980-1986. Following extension and revision of these laws, the number of accusations rose significantly as evident from the foregoing report of NCJP.
During the past two months, three Christian men were convicted under the same Laws. On 4th of July 2022, Ashfaq Massieh, a Christian motorcycle mechanic from Lahore, Punjab was awarded death sentence by the Punjab High Court on blasphemy charges.
Talking to IBC, Ashfaq’s Lawyer, Riaz Anjum said that the prime accuser Mohammad Irfan refused to pay Ashfaq Massieh for fixing the tyre of his motorcycle because of his religious affiliations, adding that instead of paying him for his services, the accuser expressed his religious association and told Ashfaq Massieh that it was not legit for him (Christian) to ask for money. He further said that Ashfaq replied that he only worshiped Jesus Christ and was only concerned with his payment, not with his religious association.
But, Mohammad Irfan ( the prime accuser), added Anjum, instead of paying him for his services, lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against Ashfaq Massieh accusing him of uttering defamatory remarks about the state religion, after which Ashfaq was arrested in 2017.
Advocate Riaz Anjam further said that a golden principle of Criminal Law which says that benefit of doubt should go the accused has been ignored, adding that there was no evidence against Ashfaq Massieh that he had committed the crime, saying: “Even the document of registered FIR does not show any blasphemous remarks or specific words and it simply mentions that he has committed blasphemy which has no evidence.”
Anjum also underlined that there were considerable contradictions in the case which were ignored by the Honourable Court. Pointing out the contradictions in the case, he informed that in written there were five eye witnesses of the crime mentioned, while only two appeared in the Court, adding that the statements given by both the witnesses didn’t match.
Further, he also mentioned that Mohammad Irfan, the prime accuser, was also not produced before the Court, adding that had he been produced, his statement would have made a case against the accused but that did not happen..
All of these legal contradictions and doubts, he added, go in favour of Ashfaq Massieh but they were ignored. Advocate Anjum is of the view that this verdict of the Court against Ashfaq Masih was announced under pressure and not on merit.
In yet another case, two Christian brothers from Chakwal—Amoon Ayub and Qaiser Ayub –were also awarded death sentence on 11th of June, 2022, on charges of blasphemy.
Tahir Bashir, the defence counsel for the accused, talking to IBC, said that in 2011, both brothers were running a website, on which objectionable content was noticed by the accuser when he was laminating his wife’s National Identity Card (NIC) at a local internet café, adding that after noticing the content, he took the printed copies of content to the area police station and registered an FIR against them, leading to their arrest.
Advocate Tahir Bashir further said that there were two websites of the same name but evidently had different URL addresses, adding that 13 pages were presented before the Court after the forensics of the recovered computer as evidence, among which 12 objectionable pages belonged to other website, which was not owned by Amoon and Qaiser.
However, he added, one page belonged to their website and the domain of the website was bought two years earlier from yahoo, which had expired then. “Allegations against these brothers, on only the basis of data recovery from their computer, are unfounded when there is clear evidence that data was first downloaded to the computer to create the evidence against the accused. Capital sentence cannot be awarded on the basis of data recovery,” Bashir added.
Bashir also informed that the accusations were incited on the basis of personal grudges, and used in this case to fix personal scores. He also argued that judges in such cases mostly are motivated by religious sentiments and judgements are, sometimes, under the pressure and sometimes without any pressure.
Kashif Aslam, who is Deputy Director at National Commission of Justice and Peace, while talking about the challenges faced under Blasphemy Law by religious minorities, said that unavailability and unaffordability of legal expertise by vulnerable groups is the main reason for lack of justice in this regard. Judges will also prioritize and face track such cases, if strong prosecution is in place. He also urged that the government should sensitize and build capacity of the police officials in this regard.
He said that high police officials must monitor such sensitive cases in order to minimize the misuse of this Law.
Albert David, member of National Commission on Minorities (NCM), emphasized on police reforms and said that as per SOPs, the authorities must ensure that only SP level officers register FIR reports on such allegations.
He also articulated that strict penalties must be introduced against false accusers to curb the misuse of this the Law. He also urged that law enforcement agencies (LEAs) should provide security to those who are either accused, under trial or proved not guilty.
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