The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, again highlights the rampant lawlessness in Pakistan and the impunity with which the “forces of violence” act against “whoever stands against their radical philosophy,” to quote the late Mr Bhatti. These “forces” find fertile ground to operate in an atmosphere where calls to vigilante action are publically made and celebrated.
We urge the government and its functionaries to swiftly apprehend, charge, try and punish Mr Bhatti’s murderers, and also to take immediate measures to curb this trend.
We urge all political parties and parliamentarians to take a clear stand on this issue: No citizen has the right to cast aspersions at the faith and beliefs of any other citizen or to term someone else a `blasphemer’.
We urge the federal and provincial governments, the judiciary and the security and law enforcement agencies to ensure protection for those, like former information minister Sherry Rehman, who are publicly threatened by extremists
Some immediate steps that must immediately be taken include:
1. An urgent and meaningful shift in the long-standing policy of appeasing extremists, by the security establishment, the judiciary, the political class and much of the media, with a few honourable exceptions.
2. Hold accountable and charge under the law those who incite hatred and violence; zero tolerance for any public labeling of anyone as `blasphemer’, which in the current situation is an incitement to murder, even brazen declaration of criminal intent and commission of a crime. Some recent examples of such incitement are:
– Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, Imam of the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, Peshawar, announced a Rs 500,000 award for the murder of Asia Bibi if the Lahore High Court acquitted her of blasphemy (reported on December 3, 2010, a month prior to the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer; some newspaperseven wrote editorials supporting this call for murder.)
– Banners placed at public places in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad by “Tehreek-e-Nifaz-Tableegh-e-Islam” terming Tehmina Durrani as Pakistan’s Taslima Nasreen and demanding that she be hanged. These must be removed forthwith and the organisation, and administrative officers who allowed these banners to be placed, proceeded against.
3. Prevent the rising number of `blasphemy’ cases being registered, by laying down and enforcing a law whereby no such cases may be registered without being inquired into by a judicial magistrate.