Divine laws in the hands of madmen
Over sixty lawyers were charged with blasphemy in Jhang this past month. The FIR was filled out by an ASI in retaliation for charges of torture drafted by the lawyers against his SHO. This local story frames a much larger change in the balance of power between the judiciary and police force Paksitan; two institutions meant to be colluding to preserve law and order in society, but have been at loggerheads for a long time.
Think back to the days of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, there was a popular national movement to restore him to his office, he was a man beset with sudden power, power that he went on to wield with a fair degree of impunity. Under his looming shadow, emboldened by his suo moto notices and politically adventurous decisions, the lawyers community had a self-assigned carte blanche to go around bullying law-enforcement officials, interfering in bureaucratic processes and generally making a public nuisance.
Policemen were on the receiving end of frequent public beatings, lawyers stormed lower courts and government buildings, went on strike and chanted derogatory slogans; up above, contempt notices flowed freely from the halls of the Supreme Court.
Now Justice Iftikhar has retired, the new chief has refused to provide an umbrella for unsavoury lawyer activities, and the response from the police force after years of suffering has been brutal. Now it’s the lawyers’ turn to be beaten and tortured, and it’s the police officers that walk free afterwards.
The SHO who first violently beat up a lawyer and then had scores of others framed for blasphemy has still not been arrested, in fact he hasn’t even been suspended from his duties, he is still running the police station in Kotwal.
The message from civilian law-enforcement is clear: it’s our time now. We at Pique feel that this is just the beginning of what may be a very tough time for lawyers and advocates in this country. As political attentions shift to the central government, the operations in Waziristan and the budget, there is a war brewing in the courts and constabularies of this country, and even in that turf war, something else will be overlooked entirely.
One irate police officer was able to implicated five dozen innocent people in a blasphemy case. If the vile persecution of minorities and settling scores in the past didn’t sway enough people or the lawmakers of this country, that statistic certainly should. The numbers here just don’t match up.
The law needs amendment. That is far too arbitrary power wielded by a man at a position notorious for selling police services for pennies. That is giving the strongest possible charge to the people society often deems the least trustworthy. People are afraid to go to the police over genuine grievances, they exploit the weak and the poor, raking in bribes and black money.
As with the Hudood laws before, an amendment needs to be made to at least make sure that only a judge has the authority to legitimately charge someone with blasphemy. The potential for abuse is just too great. Someone accused of dishonouring Islam is a corpse in waiting, anyone can kill them and say it was for the good of religion, no judge can rule against those words.
We, as a nation, simply have to stand up and address this injustice.