Two Christian teenagers booked under the blasphemy law on May 18, 2023

On May 18, 2023, two Christian teenagers Simon Nadeem, 12, and Adil Baber, 17, were booked under the blasphemy law section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Both boys were arrested by the police on May 18 after a complaint was made against them by police constable Zahid Sohail. He alleged that they were both making fun of each other and passed derogatory remarks while calling a puppy. On May 20, 2023, they were sent to jail. On 18 May around 4:30 pm, Simon and his friend Adil Baber were playing outside the house when they were alleged for the blasphemy accusation. The complainant also stated he has two eyewitnesses, Shabir Iqbal and another one, who can confirm his allegations. While both families said they have no puppy.

Zahid Sohail was passing by and heard them when both boys were making fun with each other. Without knowing the facts, he started beating the children, saying they were committing blasphemy. Several people gathered there but no one was trying to know the facts. This infuriated some of them and they ran to beat both boys, but somehow they managed to escape and save their lives later on within an hour several police officials and civilians arrested Simon and Adil from their home and took their other family members to the police station.

There were some rumours that after Friday prayers a mob could attack Christians’ houses therefore several people had left their homes and moved to unknown places to save their lives. A close relative told the CLAAS team. He added: “I also took shelter in his relative’s house as police conducted the investigation and arrested their close family members.”

After getting the information CLAAS team went to the concerned police station Race Course Lahore and also had a meeting with the Investigation officer. Both boys and their fathers were present in the office of the Investigation officer at Qila Gujjar Singh.

The boys shared that they did not pass any derogatory remarks whereas Simon’s father Nadeem shared that Zahid Sohail falsely implicated both boys in this case. The boys were crying and scared about their lives. They pleaded for forgiveness for the act which they did not commit but the police did not believe that they were innocent. They will face a trial in court. All juvenile cases, whether they are murder cases or others, are tried in juvenile courts. But with this kind of case, there is no distinction between a juvenile and an adult. It will be tried in a regular court. Another child Haider Ali case is also trialed in the regular court instead of juvenile court. The Juvenile Justice Act 2018 disallows any death sentence to be given to a minor.

Other blasphemy incidents in 2023

Because of the misuse of the blasphemy law, several people have been falsely accused; in 2023 many incidents of blasphemy were reported against the minority and majority including mob lynching.

In another case a Chinese citizen Mr. Tian working for a construction project in Pakistan is under police protection after workers accused him of blasphemy against Islam, according to officials on Monday Mr. Tian the engineer for the project in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was accused of blasphemy after he highlighted the “slow pace of work” during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. The labourers said they were fasting but denied that work had slowed down, which led to an exchange of heated words” with the supervisor, Later, the labourers accused the engineer of making blasphemous remarks” and about 400 locals gathered to protest, and a written complaint was filed against him.

Mussarat Bibi, 45, worked at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District. On April 15, 2023, she was told to clean the school’s storeroom which was filled with paper and other scraps. She wasted the paper and other scraps in a corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burnt items also contained holy pages. She was charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code and sent to Pakpattan jail in confinement.

The murder of a cleric Nigar Alam at a public meeting in Mardan, who was beaten to death by a mob following allegations of blasphemy, is at least the second such incident of this year. The cleric said in a public speech “I give respect to Imran Khan as I give to the Holy Prophet”.

In February, a 45-year-old man was killed by a mob in Nankana Sahib on the allegation of blasphemy. Hundreds of Muslims descended on a police station in Nanakana Sahib grabbed a blasphemy suspect from his cell and took him outside and lynched him.

Whereas many are confined in jail under this law and are waiting for justice.

The Blasphemy Law

The National Assembly unanimously passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023 enhancing the minimum punishment for those who insult sacred personalities from three to 10 years along with a fine of Rs1 million.

The blasphemy law has been in place since the Colonial era but only a limited number of cases resulted in convictions during that time. However, religious scholars and leaders gained access to policy-making during General Zia’s rule, and a new set of stricter blasphemy laws were passed, after which the number of cases escalated.

In 1860 the British government in the Subcontinent introduced three laws in the Indian Penal Code that were 295, 296, and 298 IPC. Later fourth blasphemy law i.e. 295-A was enacted in 1927. After partition Pakistan adopted the above-mentioned four laws in Pakistan Penal Code.

Pakistan is an Islamic country. The Muslim population of the country is about 96. 50% whereas 3.50% are other religious minorities like Christians, Hindus, Scheduled castes, and Ahmadi. According to Article 2 of the constitution of Pakistan 1973, Islam is declared as the state religion. From 1947 to up till now with the passage of time, religious intolerance has not reduced but increased. Different discriminatory laws were introduced and misused.

In 1982, Zia-ul-Haq the then President of Pakistan introduced 295-B, on defiling of copy of the Holy Quran, and in 1986 295-C use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet. Sections 295-B and 295-C PPC were only made to protect the feelings of Muslims living in Pakistan regardless of the fact that there are different religious minorities living in the same country.

Interestingly after the insertion of new blasphemy laws from 1977 to 1988 in the period Zia ul Haq there are 80 cases. From 1988 up till now, it is observed that thousands of blasphemy cases have been registered against Muslims and non-Muslims.

Since 1987, Punjab experienced the highest ratio of abuse of law and religion. At least 78 persons had been killed extra-judicially after allegations related to blasphemy and apostasy, 42 of whom were Muslims, 23 Christians, nine Ahmadis, two Hindus, and two persons whose religious identity could not be ascertained.

In Pakistan talking about religion is considered a great felony. Restriction on freedom of speech has created suffocation in society. People are taking the law into their hands. Extrajudicial killing and mob lynching have become a trend in Pakistani society.

In the prevailing circumstance, the atmosphere has become more vulnerable for society. If a person is charged with a blasphemy accusation then he has to face hardships like a long period of confinement in jail just to prove himself innocent.

Punishment of 295-B & 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code

Section 295-B is punishable with life imprisonment whereas the punishment of section 295-C was life imprisonment or death. Later, in 1991 the punishment of section 295-C was challenged in the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan.

The Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan holds only the death sentence for an accused of blasphemy.

It is a settled principle of the law of criminology that “no act is a crime until it is committed with a guilty mind”. The intention is an important part of the commission of any offence. But unfortunately in blasphemy laws criminal intention is not an essential part. Strangely, in the cases of blasphemy, this rule would not be applicable. In some cases, the courts observed that it is not necessary to prove the intention of the accused. This is a big lacuna of the blasphemy law which opens the door for the people to involve the innocent people into the false blasphemy cases just to gain their scores.

Legal and Social Hurdles in blasphemy cases

In blasphemy cases, the accused, his family, and his lawyer face so many hurdles as well as nothing is defined in the Pakistan Penal Code as to what specific kind of action, word, writing, or speech is blasphemy.

The constitution of Pakistan gives freedom of expression to its citizens but in many cases, it is observed that the complainant falsely implicated the accused on the pretext of making any remarks regarding religion. The law is mishandled by law enforcement agencies and misused by the people as well.

Article 10-A gives the right of every accused to a fair trial. Unfortunately, in blasphemy cases, the spirit of a fair trial is not applied in its true spirit. If a person is involved in a blasphemy accusation then he has to face long confinement in jail because of the slow judicial system. Further, in blasphemy cases, most investigators showed partial attitude while investigating the case under section 295-B & C PPC, in spite of the fact that there is a legal procedure to treat the accused.

There is no legal system for the protection of the accused, their family, and their lawyers due to which number of accused have been murdered in extra-judicial killings. In most cases the police and judges showed their biased attitude may be because of the threat to life. No legal protection for the person who gives the statement in favor of the accused’s innocence.

The blasphemy law in Pakistan is frequently used to inflict despicable and multiple human rights violations, including physical violence, mental torture and killing, evictions, and loss of life. It is not only the accused but sometimes the entire family and community which undergo the suffering after allegations are leveled.

Further, due to religious discrimination, people take the law into their hands just to show their religious activism concern and resultantly the incidents of mob lynching happen.

Society and fellow citizens show their biased attitude through the social boycott of the accused of blasphemy and their family. Fear of life for the accused, his family, and his defenders always remained. The reason for the above-said attitude of the society is religious intolerance, non-acceptance of faith differences, lack of information about other religions, and religious group activism.

Every Blasphemy case that has come to court to this date has not been proven but still, no action has been taken against the perpetrators or instigators who initiated this crime with malicious intent and this remains a factor for a staggering rise in such crimes. Discussing the misuse of this law itself is considered Blasphemy. A mere accusation of blasphemy was enough to gather a mob of thousands of angry Muslims who burnt down 785 Christian houses and 4 churches in Shantinagar; more than 2500 Christians were forced to flee their homes to escape religious persecution. Seven Christians were burnt alive after an allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran in Gojra more than 50 houses and a church were set on fire, while a hundred were injured in this incident. More than 100 houses were burnt down in Joseph Colony after allegations of blasphemy. None of the attackers in any of these incidents have been apprehended. Up to this date, at least 80 people have become a victim of mob justice; they were stabbed, gunned down or burnt alive after blasphemy accusations were leveled against them.