Pakistani Activists Speak Out Against Torture of Accused Blasphemers

Cases of custodial torture in blasphemy cases raise concern among Pakistani rights activists.

Human rights activists in Pakistan have urged the authorities to modify some of the principles of criminal justice to ensure the grounds for fair trials and express their concern about the rapid increase in cases of custodial torture in the country.

Rights groups have found several flaws in the law enacted by the Pakistan Senate two months ago, which makes the torture of the accused in custody unlawful. Reports claim that the activists requested a better implementation of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) 2022 bill.

The current blasphemy law neither guarantees the accused a fair trial nor provides them religious freedom, said Voice of Justice rights group chairperson Joseph Janson. Meanwhile, the accuser receives no consequences even after using fake evidence and false testimony. Despite everything, no countermeasures were taken to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law, and no changes were made to the existing laws.

Janson noted that Pakistan's blasphemy laws were inconsistent and incompatible with international human rights standards. "The accuser who levels blasphemy allegations against any person is bound to prove malicious intent, but this stipulation is missing in legislation and is not taken into account during blasphemy trials," said Janson.

According to reports, a human rights activist from Pakistan who goes by the name Ashiknaz Khokhar has said that digital media and popular social media platforms in the country play a significant role in spreading misinformation. It has become an open source where people can falsely accuse someone of blasphemy and target religious minorities. Many innocent individuals were imprisoned for years to come over false accusations of blasphemy, Khokhar added.

In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns about the criminal justice system in Pakistan. It said that in order to end Pakistan's custody torture issue, first, we have to criminalize the system itself. "Justice and accountability in cases of torture will only be possible if parliament passes the torture bill and the government enforces the law by carrying out transparent and impartial investigations into torture allegations," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

The torture and mistreatment the Pakistani police give to the accused during the criminal investigation have been long documented by The New York-based rights watchdog.

"Criminal suspects from marginalized groups are at particular risk of police abuse. Methods of torture include beatings with batons and littars (leather straps), stretching and crushing legs with roola (metal rods), sexual violence, prolonged sleep deprivation, and causing severe mental anguish, including by forcing detainees to watch other people being tortured," according to the HRW report.

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