PAKISTAN: Of glorifying religious extremism and intolerance

State fails once again to protect blasphemy convict, injured by prison guard

In a latest incident on 25 September 2014, a 71-year old prisoner who was awarded the death sentence in a blasphemy case was attacked and critically wounded when a cop on duty opened fire at him in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad.

The assailant cop Muhammad Yousaf was not on the duty of the barrack cell, where the prisoner Muhammad Asgher was being held, but he managed to approach the cell, pulled a 30-bore handgun from his shoe and shot twice at the inmate Muhammad Asgher, injuring him critically.

The victim was rushed to hospital and luckily survived. He was hit by one bullet, which broke two of his ribs and punctured his right lung. Other reports say the cop used official sub machine gun (SMG) to shoot Asgher. The attacking cop surrendered himself before the jail administration, which later handed him over to police, who recovered a pistol, two magazines with 17 bullets and a dagger from the possession of the accused guard.

Important to mention is that guards on duty inside prisons are prohibited from carrying any weapons, however, this is strange that how the attacker brought the weapons into the prison and how he managed to walk into Asghar’s cell before shooting him. He was not deputed at the barracks where the blasphemy accused was kept in solitary confinement — managed to get to the victim.

Pertinent to mention is that the attacking cop hails from city of Chiniot, considered as hub of anti-Ahmedi movement and religious extremism. This city is also close to Rabwa– a center of Ahmedi community, which has been frequent target of extremists.

In view of the recent trends of blasphemy allegations and prevailing situation of rising extremism, it was not hard to expect that such an attack could happen. This is sheer failure of jail administration, which fails to prevent this attack despite knowing the sensitivity of the security of such prisoners.

It seems the attacker was influenced by the glorification of Mumtaz Qadri- the self-confessed killer of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Qadri has widespread support of various some religious parties who openly pledge to follow Qadri “against every blasphemer”. The Qadri lovers offered Rs.100 million for the gun, with which he killed Tasser. Lawyers garlanded Qadri or for that matter the Lahore High Court’s former Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif offered to defend him. Thus it is easy to guess the possibility of influence of Qadri’s act on the Cop.

Muhammad Asgher is Pakistani origin British national and came to Pakistan to settle a property dispute with his opponents in 2010. In Pakistan he is resident of Sadiqabad, Rawalpindi. According to his lawyer, opponents of Asgher managed to get hold of some unsent letters of Asgher, where he had allegedly made blasphemous claims. On the basis of those letters an FIR under section 295/C PPC was registered against him on blasphemy charges and he was arrested.

The police later submitted the challan of the case before the court of the District and Sessions Judge Naveed Iqbal who awarded him a death sentence after recording statements of witnesses as well as people from complainant and defendant parties.

It may be mentioned that Muhammad Asgher had been diagnosed with a mental disorder and had already undergone treatment for a psychological condition in the UK. However, despite this fact the judge did not entertain the psychological record of the victim and awarded him death sentence on the charges of Blasphemy.

After the incident govt. took cosmetic measures per routine to show efficiency, like; eight-prison officials were suspended and internal inquiry was launched. The Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif formed a four-member probe committee and asked it to present their report within 24 hours. However, after passing 6 days there is no further information, shared with media about the findings of the committee or internal inquiry.

The rising incidents of blasphemy cases and killings in Pakistan are a matter of grave concern. So far, at least 48 people accused of blasphemy have been extra judicially killed, including seven in prison or outside court.

Earlier, in similar occurrence, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down on January 3, 2011 by one of his own security guards. He later explained that he had killed Mr Taseer because of his criticism of the blasphemy law.

In another high profile incident a group of gunmen shot dead federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti on 1st March, 2011, about two months after the assassination of Selman Taseer for demanding amendment in blasphemy laws.

Earlier this year, a prominent human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman, representing a professor accused of making a blasphemous Facebook post, was shot dead after prosecution lawyers had threatened to kill him in front of a judge.

Just two weeks back, gunmen shot dead a liberal professor of Islamic studies, Shakeel Auj in Karachi. The killing followed years of threats from his colleagues and allegations of blasphemy.

The blasphemy law is part of the Islamic laws, introduced by military dictator Ge. Zia Ul Haq in 1980s.  These constitutional provisions to “Islamise” laws, education and culture, and official dissemination of a particular brand of Islamic ideology, not only militate against Pakistan’s religious diversity but also breed discrimination against non-Muslim minorities. The misuse of these laws is now increasingly used to settle personal scores or grab property.

The accused of blasphemy are often lynched and their lawyers have frequently been attacked. Judges have been threatened and attacked for dismissing cases and many of the accused face years in jail as their trials drag on.

This is dangerous trend, societal intolerance and religious extremism rapidly making hostage to the already weak administrative and justice system of Pakistan. Police, lawyers and judges; everybody is scared. Without recognizing the diversity of Islam, pluralism and reaffirm the constitutional principle of equality for all citizens regardless of religion or sect, it is hard for the state to religious and sectarian peace in the country.

Instead of empowering liberal, democratic voices, the State has co-opted the religious right and continues to rely on it to counter civilian opposition. By depriving democratic forces of an even playing field and continuing to ignore the need for policies that would encourage and indeed reflect the country’s religious diversity, the state has allowed religious extremism to flourish. It has failed to protect a vulnerable judiciary and equip its law-enforcing agencies with the tools they need to eliminate sectarian terrorism.

The point to ponder is why society and particularly jihadi media tend to glorify such attackers, who kill/attack the accused/under trial prisoners?

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-178-2014
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of religion, Impunity, Non-state actors,