Blasphemy Now Equals Terrorism: Pakistan's Bold Legal Move

The Pakistani government entered into an agreement with a radical Islamist party to try blasphemy suspects under the country’s anti-terrorism laws along with existing anti-blasphemy laws in the Muslim-majority nation.

Pakistani authorities made these concessions with the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after the party mounted a 25-day-long march protest at Sarai Alamgir in the country’s Gujrat district, some 200 kilometers away from Lahore. The Islamist party ended their protest after signing a pact with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) on June 17th.

Under the 12-point agreement they signed with the TLP, Pakistani authorities agreed to arrest those accused of blasphemy and charge them under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, alongside Section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, which prohibits derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.

The Pakistani government also agreed to lift the ban on the coverage of TLP on broadcast and social media and withdrew all political cases filed against TLP leaders and workers. Supporters of the TLP were believed to have played a part in the lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara in December 2021. The party was also previously banned by the Pakistani government and declared a militant organization after several confrontations with the authorities.

Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah said the government accepted “all legitimate” demands of the TLP, especially on blasphemy laws. He added that due to the agreement, a counter-blasphemy wing (CBW) would be established under the authority of the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for the first time, ensuring speedy trials for blasphemy suspects. Sanaullah said the government is taking steps to block blasphemous content on Pakistani social media.

Sanaullah also said that TLP leaders once accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act have their names cleared and will have freedom of movement, and the federal government will issue directives to provincial governments regarding the matter.

The agreement will essentially make blasphemy suspects, as well as religious minorities and non-religious Pakistanis, more vulnerable to accusations of blasphemy. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have long noted that the country’s strict anti-blasphemy laws have been used against religious minorities. However, they have also been used against Muslims to settle personal scores.

Last May, a religious leader was lynched by a mob in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during a rally organized by the opposition party Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, after allegedly making blasphemous remarks during a speech.

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