Pakistan’s Punjab Province to Defend Victims of Blasphemy Law

Blasphemy Laws

A few of the many people jailed and awaiting trial on grounds of having violated Pakistan’s notoriously ambiguous and discriminatory blasphemy law may now be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel. The judiciary in Punjab Province has drawn up a short list of 50 individuals who were earlier convicted of blasphemy, after concluding that they have been victimized due to insufficient evidence or lack of legal counsel.

Reportedly, the provincial government would be undertaking the legal defense of these individuals, some of whom may have become mentally unstable over the years, in special fast track trials. While most perceive this to be a symbolic initiative, there is little doubt that it is a necessary one, especially since there are as many as 262 people waiting to be tried on blasphemy charges in Punjab Province alone.  Most of those charged with blasphemy belong to religious minorities and often wind up in such cases due to personal disputes.

The blasphemy law in Pakistan, also known as Section 295C of the penal code, allows the death penalty to be effectively mandatory for those convicted. While no executions have been carried out, 19 people are on death row for blasphemy. As unfortunate as it may seem, even a careless accusation of blasphemy can lead to a person receiving the death sentence in Pakistan. In November 2014, a furious mob attacked a Christian couple for suspected blasphemy and an angry police officer hacked to death a mentally unstable man who was in custody, for allegedly making blasphemous remarks.

The situation is so grave, even lawyers that seek to defend those accused of blasphemy stand the risk of losing their lives. In May 2014, two unidentified gunmen shot to death Rashid Rehman, a renowned human rights defender, for willingly representing individuals accused of blasphemy.

Photo Credits: The Muslim Times

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