Pakistani Christians have welcomed a ruling by the country's Supreme Court ordering the state to take action to prevent the blasphemy law from being used as a tool to unfairly harass and persecute religious minorities.
Sabir Michael, a Catholic engaged in civic movements for religious minorities in Pakistan, commented on the country's recent Supreme Court ruling which ordered the state to be very diligent in handling blasphemy cases.
“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which asks the government to be more careful in handling blasphemy cases. We recall the misuse of blasphemy laws over the past two decades.”
“This situation is very worrying for Christians, Hindus, and other religious minorities in Pakistan. It is very important for police and government officials to handle cases of blasphemy very carefully, so that no innocent people are incriminated.”
In a nine-page text, judges Qazi Faez Isa and Syed Mansoor Ali Shah point out that blasphemy cases receive a lot of attention and publicity, which can have the effect of compromising the conduct of a fair and regular trial.
Judges identified cases where false accusations of blasphemy have been made to settle personal scores or for ulterior motives. Judge Isa emphasized that prosecutions should never be influenced by “zeal or moral outrage,” but that the state, i.e. the prosecutor, “must proceed meticulously and diligently in such a dispute.”
The Court stated that, in accordance with the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, applying constitutional law, care must always be taken to ensure that an innocent person is not wrongfully convicted of offenses related to religion, in particular “when there is only the improbable oral testimony of witnesses.”
The judgment further notes that “the defendant's fundamental right to a fair trial must be guaranteed,” pointing out that “there have been cases where an angry mob injured or even killed a defendant before he could be tried.”
“The law forbids taking the law into your own hands. In Islamic jurisprudence, even if a person has been found guilty and sentenced to death, the sentence can only be carried out by those who are authorized to do so. And if he kills the convicted person, the person responsible for the crime must be punished,” the court explained in its judgment.
The text also recalls that preaching Christianity is not a crime in Pakistan, but that “it is a fundamental right of every citizen to profess, practice, and propagate his religion,” According to Sabir Michael, “this judgment is a beacon of hope, and will serve to convince state officials to be more careful in handling blasphemy cases.”
Nasir Raza, a Christian, media professional, said: “We pray for its implementation, so that innocent people will no longer be victims of false accusations of blasphemy, as has happened in notorious cases such as that of Asia Bibi, and so many others.”
According to the Center for Social Justice, an NGO that monitors the phenomenon, 1,949 people have been charged under blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021. This figure includes 928 Muslims, 643 Ahmadis, 281 Christians, 42 Hindus, and 55 citizens of unknown confessions.