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The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan
The Blasphemy Law was introduced in the Pakistan Penal Code as Section 295-C in 1986. Under this Section, any person guilty of defiling the name of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was made liable to suffer life imprisonment or death. Later, in 1991, the alternative of life imprisonment was removed under the direction of the Federal Shariat Court; accordingly the only penalty applicable now is death. In this article, it is intended to examine and narrate some facts regarding the application of this law against Ahmadis.
It is a recurring experience of the Ahmadiyya Community during the past 13 years that this law has been applied against Ahmadis as a tool to intimidate, harass, repress and persecute them with little regard to the actual circumstances of the accusation of blasphemy. For an Ahmadi to commit blasphemy against the Prophet is as unthinkable and unlikely as for a believing Christian to commit blasphemy against Jesus. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement considered the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) his mentor and master. It is only by some extremely perverted and inexplicable logic that an Ahmadiyya position or view may be termed blasphemous. For instance, some mullas insist that an Ahmadi, simply by adherence to Islamic Creed, commits blasphemy. Ironically, some members of the powerful establishment have found it convenient to echo this absurdity. Since the introduction of this law, 189 Ahmadis have been charged under PPC 295-C. An in-depth study of these cases would show that in every case the victim was charged on spurious grounds and with malafide intentions. In most cases, personal vendetta was the prime mover; in many others, mullas gave vent to their religious prejudices, while in some cases authorities found it convenient and expedient to press charges under this Section. It is surprising that on a number of occasions, no trouble was taken even to concoct evidence or state an apparently valid reason while framing the charge in the FIR (First Information Report), as the aim was to urgently hang a Damocles sword over the victim's head. It can be stated without any risk of exaggeration that none of the blasphemy cases against Ahmadis was well founded, valid or credible. However, the PPC 295-C has served a purpose, that of severe and unending persecution of a peaceful, law abiding and non-aggressive community with which the mulla is in discord over some religious issues. Hereunder, essential details of only a few cases are briefly given in support of this assertion.
Four Ahmadis Behind Bars for Four Years without Trial
There had been a dispute between the main accused, Mr. Riaz Ahmad, Ahmadi and the plaintiff, Muhammad Abdullah over the post of Numberdar (village chief). Mr. Riaz Ahmad had been Numberdar of the village for a long time; the plaintiff applied to authorities to have him removed from this post because Riaz was an Ahmadi. The Deputy Commissioner gave the verdict against Mr. Riaz. However, the Commissioner gave the ruling that there is no prohibition in law for an Ahmadi to be Numberdar. Under these circumstances, the plaintiff contrived an easier and more effective plan to deal with his rival, in that he got registered a concocted case of Blasphemy against Mr. Riaz Ahmad and his relatives. Thus the four were arrested the same day and placed in Mianwali jail.
An application for their release on bail was filed in the court of Additional Session Judge, Mianwali. On December 7, 1993, the date of hearing, the plaintiff with the help of Mulla Akram Toofani and his gang created a noisy situation outside the court. The case was sent up to the court of Session Judge. The hearing there was postponed a number of times. On 3 January 1994 the date of hearing, mullas gathered in a large number at the court premises. The Sessions Court rejected the bail applications of the accused.
The bail application was then moved in the Lahore High Court. After hearing, the judge decided to send this case to the Chief Justice and requested that a larger bench of judges be constituted to give their comment on some pertinent questions arising from the Blasphemy Law. The bench heard the case in April 1994. The Judges upheld and defended the Blasphemy Law. This law was defended on various grounds including, If the provisions of Section 295-C were repealed or declared to be ultra vires of the Constitution, the time old method of doing away with the culprits at the spot would stand revived. (The Nation and The News International of April 27, 1994)
Subsequently the bail application was heard afresh by Justice Nazir Akhtar on 25 May. Assistant Advocate General Mr. Nazir Ghazi, representing the State, vehemently opposed the grant of bail to the accused. He argued that if an insult were uttered about the Holy Prophet, Muhammad, we would not look into the intentions behind such an utterance. Thus according to this ranking officer of the law, the complainant's opinion on insult could not be questioned by the defense and the latter's intentions or explanation were not relevant. The Judge then rejected the bail application. The accused stayed on in prison.
Bail application was then moved in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 20 July 1994. The defense took the plea that the accusation was a false one. The Chief Justice ordered that the petition be heard by a larger bench of the court.
For more than 1½ years, the Supreme Court was not able to give a date for hearing the case. The accused stayed on in prison for over four years awaiting release on bail. Mother of two of the accused died during their stay in prison. The appalling conditions of Pakistani jails are well known. As the breadwinners were in prison, their families faced acute financial problems. Their situation remained distressing and pathetic. Eventually they were bail in December 1997. Now they will face the dreaded trial. How long this trial on a fabricated charge will continue, is any body's guess.
Invitation Card for a Wedding and a Gift from the State
Of the 13 accused, two were women and one was a nine months old baby. How could a baby be blasphemous to the Holy Prophet, boggles one's mind. Mr. Nasir Ahmad, father of the bride, remained in prison for almost three months. He was eventually released on bail, which was granted at no lower a level than the Supreme Court. The judicial process lingered on for three years. During the process, Lahore High Court gave the verdict, that prima facie a charge under 295-C could be applied. The application was then taken to the Supreme Court where, apart from other statements, Mr. Farooq Haider, Additional Advocate General, representing the State, asserted that this was the limit of their patience to tolerate these people (Ahmadis) in the country. The worthy Supreme Court gave the verdict that PPC 295-C was not applicable. Other sections however remained applicable.
Eventually, Additional Sessions Judge, Sheikhupura announced his judgement on 23-4-1995 whereby the father of the bride was sentenced to four years' rigorous imprisonment and two years' rigorous imprisonment u/s 295-A and 298-C PPC respectively for the wedding invitation card.
This was the gift of the State to the father of the bride at the blessed and happy occasion of her wedding.
Investigation by a Judicial Officer in order to Avoid a False Complaint!
In October 1994, the mullas lodged an entirely false complaint against the Amir of Ahmadiyya Community, Rajanpur, Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, that he, in a discussion with them, used derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet Mohammad (on whom be peace), while no such discussion had ever taken place between them. A magistrate was appointed by the Deputy Commissioner to make inquiries into the matter, who in his report submitted that the mullas showed their non-confidence over the inquiry proceedings being conducted by me. The Deputy Commissioner then entrusted the inquiry to the Assistant Commissioner, who wrote back that he found the accused liable to be prosecuted under section 298 PPC, as he was reportedly engaged in preaching. The Assistant Commissioner did not, however, recommend that he should be charged under PPC 295C. The Deputy Commissioner who was bent upon proceeding against the Ahmadiyya Amir under the Blasphemy Law, then sent the case to District Attorney in order to seek his opinion, who eventually wrote back to him that the Ahmadiyya Amir should be prosecuted under section 295C . The Amir was then arrested and charged under the Blasphemy clause.
The Deputy Commissioner while addressing a public meeting took credit for the action taken by him against the Ahmadi leader, (See for reference the Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Multan Edition: 1 November 1994)
So much for the investigation by a judicial officer in order to avoid a false complaint.
A Sulky and Corrupt Police Officer uses PPC 295C
The Anti-Corruption Department has registered a case against the Sub-Inspector on charge of seeking illegal gratification.
A Novel Reasoning to Cry Blasphemy
The two accused now have this Damocles sword of death penalty hanging over their heads. Their crime is that they had a sticker on their motor cycle, Is God not sufficient for His servant? The future historian is going to find it difficult to believe that the entire establishment in Pakistan during the last decade of the twentieth century of the Common Era had found a simple and non-controversial verse of the Quran sufficient reason to cry Blasphemy and to make an effort to award death punishment to the believing accused. However, in the presence of the documents, evidence of the police FIR and the records of the Sessions Court etc, he will be left with no choice except to believe the unbelievable.
PPC 295C- A Tool of Mass Terror and Persecution
To be exact, he accused the victims of writing the following in their correspondence:
Those whom he got included in the list of accused are:
The Police FIR states that the case was registered at the orders of Superintendent Police, Sanghar. It is relevant to mention that four of the accused were over 70 years of age, including two who were 80. The crime is considered so serious that the bail was granted by no less an authority than the Honorable Chief Justice of Sind High Court. The accused faced these charges for six years and some of them had to travel regularly almost one and a half thousand kilometers for each court appearance. Not all of them have still been cleared.
Apparently, the entire Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan has become hostage under the Blasphemy Law. Anybody can have any Ahmadi implicated on the most flimsy excuse. There is no dearth of these anybody(s).
A Dangerous Weapon in the Hands of Corrupt Officials
It is interesting and relevant to give in brief, some salient aspects of the life of Javed Sarwar, the Deputy Commissioner who played, behind the scene, a leading role in this case.
Sarwar joined the civil service as a petty official (Tehsildar) in 1960. A few years later, he was fired by the government on charges of corruption. Many years later, he was reinstated. He is related to the well known General Rani (Begum Raza) who claimed close relationship with Mr. Hamid Nasir Chatha, a Muslim League (J) leader. With these and some other powerful supporters in politics and bureaucracy, he was given the charge of district Gujranwala as Deputy Commissioner. He soon developed a reputation for open corruption and bribery. He was accused of receiving a heavy amount in bribes regularly every month. The President of the District Bar accused him in public of all these charges, some of which the Deputy Commissioner boldly and unashamedly admitted. Advocates and lawyers boycotted his court. In July 1997, Javed Sarwar was arrested and put behind bars for arranging murder of an adversary.
How could one feel safe from such administrators who, at will, can apply the Blasphemy Law?
Blasphemy Law- A Political Weapon
One, Javed Iqbal, who claims himself to be a staunch Muslim, supported by other fundamentalists, approached the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court through a writ claiming that PPC 295-C and 298-C had been violated by Mr. Bajwa. The Police Addl SHO submitted to the court that if approached by the complainant, a case would be registered against Mr. Atiq Ahmad Bajwa. An FIR was accordingly registered on 10 November 1992 under Sections PPC 298-C and 295-C, the Blasphemy Law. The complainant complained that his religious sensibilities had been hurt and Blasphemy committed, because Atiq Bajwa, a non-Muslim, said the following:
Greeting of (Assalamo Alaikum)
Mr. Bajwa was subsequently arrested. A large number of Muslim members of the lawyer community who were present in the meeting asserted in writing that Mr. Bajwa said nothing which hurt their religious feelings, and the complainant attended their Association meeting unauthorizedly and uninvited. So Mr. Bajwa was released on bail, but the charges remained and he continued to fend for his life ever since.
On 19 June 1997, Mr. Atiq Bajwa was murdered in broad daylight by a bearded pillion rider. Mr. Bajwa was 60. He left behind a widow, three sons, a daughter and many admirers to mourn his gruesome murder.
The Noble Lady Who Died Sixty Years Ago
According to one, Waqar Jadoon, an activist of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Youth Force, Syed Bashir Shah, an Ahmadi sent a copy of this book to the mother of Hamid of Abbotabad. Jadoon claims that he located this book with Hamid, and he found it insulting to the religion of Islam. Obligingly the police registered a case against Syed Bashir Shah under section 295-C, 298-A and 298-C PPC (as if death penalty under 295-C was not sufficient).
It is relevant to mention that the book has been translated in English. Other than Waqar Jadoon and his type, anyone else may do the interesting exercise of reading through the book and try to discover anything even awkward in it. The soul of discreet Sir Zafrulla would indeed be very surprised at such an unlikely discovery.
Doctor On Trial for Life
A counsel of state filed an application for cancellation of the bail in the Lahore High Court. The Judge dismissed the application with the observation that the addition of Sections 16 MPO and 295-C were made later without justification and legal basis.
The Additional Session Judge however did not concede to removing the charge of blasphemy, and on 20 March 1997, he framed Section 295-C against the doctor. On 9 April 1997, when the accused arrived at Khushab to face the charges, a host of prosecution witnesses and bearded sympathizers arrived at the scene crying hoarse that they were involved in Jihad. Most of them belonged to Sipah Sahaba; the group blamed for the recent wave of extensive terrorist activities in the Punjab. For the last many years, Dr. Majoka has suffered and tried hard to avoid hanging on the gallows, for a crime he cannot dream of committing.
In Prison- for what Reason?
The bail application was then moved in the High Court, where it was accepted and the accused was released from the prison three months after his arrest to face the actual trial.
Translate the Quran and Face Hanging
Long Reach of the Persecution Net of the Blasphemy Law
In the meantime, the Session Judge was transferred, so the magistrate again pushed the opinion that PPC 295-C was indicated. Lahore High Court was then moved by the defense for quashment of the whole case. Justice Mohammad Nasim, however, was not convinced; he set aside the 298-A, but maintained PPC 295-C, the blasphemy accusation. If after nine years, an accusation under 298-A can be changed into 295-C, no defendant can ever feel that the tie of the hangman's knot is too far from his neck.
An appeal was made in the Supreme Court against the High Court decision. Judge Ejaz Nisar of the Supreme Court also did not provide any relief, instead ordered maliciously that the case be decided by 30 November 1997. Accordingly, Rana Zahid Mahmud, Additional Session Judge, Sheikhupura, gave the decision that each one of the three accused was to undergo 25 years of rigorous imprisonment and to pay Rs.50,000/- fine. Immediately the accused were arrested inside the court and were taken to the district jail Sheikhupura. Later, they were shifted to the Central Jail, Faisalabad.
According to the trial judge the three accused had responded to the complainant who was critical of Hadrat Ahmad, in these words: We say the same about Mohammad what you say about Ahmad. Twenty five years' imprisonment simply for this reply! In fact, even this reply is fabricated. And surely, not all the three accused said these words in unison. History will not readily forget nor forgive Rana Zahid Mahmud for his injustice.
Conclusion: The above stories have been repeated with slight variations in all the rest of the 189 cases concerning Ahmadis. Although a few individuals of other religious denominations including some Muslims have also faced charges of blasphemy, the most frequent victims of the blasphemy law are Ahmadis. A Supreme Court decision in 1994 provided the legal convenience for action against Ahmadis. The Supreme Court, while dismissing a petition of Ahmadis, observed: When an Ahmadi or Ahmadis display in public, on a placard, badge, or a poster, or writes on a wall or ceremonial gates, or bunting the Kalima (Islamic creed) or chant other Shaaire Islam (Islamic epithets) it would amount to defiling the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). [Also See Enforced Apostasy: Zaheeruddin v. State and the Official Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan by M. Nadeem Ahmad Siddiq] Thus, while a Hindu, a Christian or any other non-Muslim could only be charged under the Blasphemy Law if he actually defiles the person of the Prophet or if he is falsely accused of such an act, Ahmadis, on the other hand, are charged under the Blasphemy Law when they profess or practice the faith they believe in, i.e. Islam. The persecutor thus may not bother to produce witnesses or any other evidence, as no Ahmadi is, ever, going to deny or denounce his own faith. Dr. Karen Parker, the internationally well-known human rights campaigner told the UN Sub-Commission that President Zia told her that he considered that Ahmadis defile the Holy Prophet; Ahmadis personally offend him and that it was his duty to eliminate heretics (Report of her interview with the General on 5 May 1986). According to a recent press report (Jang Sept 5, 1997) Raja Zafar ul Haq, the Federal Minister of Religious Affairs told a visiting delegation: Qadianis are enemies of both Islam and Pakistan; they are worse than Jews. The statement was subsequently not disowned by the Minister or by the Government, thereby indicating confirmation.
Sometimes ago, the Government of Pakistan proposed that the law would be amended to discourage unjustified use of complaints of blasphemy, but no concrete or binding steps have been taken in that direction or to provide relief to the numerous old cases. No safeguards and effective legal remedies have been made available against illegal or abusive application of PPC 295-C. Mulla and the officialdom are free to exercise their discretion to victimize innocent Ahmadis who could never even consider being blasphemous to the Prophet. Very recently, a sinister and inauspicious move by the government has come to light which is loaded with possibilities of grave miscarriage of justice and human rights. According to a report, which appeared in the Daily Jang, Lahore of 11 September 1997, Mr. Rana Latif, Additional Advocate General Punjab informed the Lahore High Court during the hearing of a blasphemy case against Yusuf Ali that, according to the new legislation, blasphemy case under PPC 295 will be placed under the jurisdiction of Special Courts, as such these anti-terrorist courts will hear these cases. On 20 September, the same newspaper reported that the High Court judge refused the applicant's bail and concluded that according to the new law, Special Courts have the authority to hear Blasphemy cases. Subsequently, a number of such cases were referred to these courts under the Anti-Terrorist Act which a Human Rights scholar has called an Act of Terrorism (Newsline, Sept: 1992). Faced with international condemnation, the government withdrew the PPC 295 C from the ATA list but maintained the 295 A.
For sometime, various arms of the government have themselves been active in application of the Blasphemy Law on Ahmadis who happen to get implicated in religious litigation. Officials of both the judiciary as well as the executive branches have participated in this exercise. From 1994 to April 1997, twenty-four Ahmadis were made victims of this official tyranny. Now it has become almost routine. For instance, 19 Ahmadis were booked under this law at Umarkot Sind, on 2 September 1998. In addition, officers of the Attorney General Department have persevered in attempts to block bail applications of Ahmadi victims. This belies the government claim, made off and on, that the provisions of Anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance are not being actively applied and the application of PPC 295C has been made restricted.
Last, but not least, Ahmadiyya Community is of the considered view that the Quran makes absolutely no mention of the Blasphemy Law or of punishment of death or imprisonment; on the contrary, there are many verses in the Quran which clearly support the principle of freedom of faith and conscience. Blasphemy, as an immoral act, however, stands to be condemned by not only Islam but also all decent persons and societies, no matter against whom blasphemy is committed.