68 Muslim lawyers denounced for blasphemy

According to the complaint filed at the instigation of an extremist Sunni Muslim leader, the lawyers had insulted Caliph Umar bin Khattab, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan
May 15 2014, 2:29 PM
68 Muslim lawyers denounced for blasphemy
Lawyers protesting in Jhang district of Punjab province.

The police in Jhang district of Punjab province have registered a blasphemy case against 68 Muslim lawyers, mostly Shiites, who had staged a protest on May 7 against a police officer.

According to the complaint filed at the instigation of an extremist Sunni Muslim leader, the lawyers had insulted Caliph Umar bin Khattab, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad.

The lawyers had demanded the dismissal of the head of the local police, Umar Daraz, who had beaten and illegally detained one of their colleagues. The charge against the lawyers is that as Daraz shares the same name of the caliph, on pronouncing it the lawyers offended the prophet’s companion.

The Bar Association has declared a-three-day strike, announcing that the protest will continue until the charges are withdrawn.

Jhang district is the birthplace of the radical Islamic group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, one of the most violent Sunni extremist groups in the country.

Father Yousaf Emmanuel, National Director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, expected the charges against the lawyers, under Article 295(a) of the Criminal Code, would be settled with political intervention within two or three days without any consequences as it is an intra-Muslim dispute.

“It is different when a Christian is involved; then there are murders or mass attacks, without even giving the opportunity to defend oneself,” he said.

“In September 2013, after the massacre of Christians in the church of Peshawar, the Head of the Supreme Court said that if a place of worship of any religion was desecrated, the perpetrators would be charged with blasphemy under Article 295 of the Penal Code. But in the case of the attack on Joseph Colony in Lahore (March 2013), none of the Muslim extremists who destroyed churches has been indicted for blasphemy. Meanwhile, the Christian Sawan Masih was sentenced to death," said Father Emmanuel.

A wrong step can have deadly consequences for judges, journalists, lawyers, rights activists and politicians involved in blasphemy cases.

Last week, a lawyer and human rights activist Rashid Rehman was killed in his office in Multan in Punjab, because he defended a man accused of blasphemy.

The accusations of blasphemy have grown in the last decade; according to a recent report by the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad, in 2011 there were 80 complaints, compared to only one case in 2001.

The Blasphemy Law consists of article 295 of the Penal Code of Pakistan, which punishes the desecration of places of worship of all religions; 295(a) punishes the offense of religious sentiments. To these were added 295(b) on the desecration of the Koran (punishable by life imprisonment) and 295(c) for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The last two articles were promulgated by the pro-Islamist dictator Zia-ul-Haq (1978-1988) between 1984 and 1986.

Source: Agenzia Fides

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