In what is being dubbed as a new form of honour killing, a bizarre case of blasphemy has surfaced. Eraj Sajjad, a senior bureaucrat’s daughter was reported this week to have been implicated in blasphemy after she left home in a bid to escape a forced marriage with Imtiaz Alam, a wealthy and influential businessman. Sajjad claims Alam implicated her in revenge for the rejection. Karachi police registered an FIR based on a written complaint from Alam against Sajjad ‘for giving derogatory remarks on a very sensitive religious issue.’ The girl apparently wrote to the federal interior ministry and the Sindh government minister, but both declined to help her have the case withdrawn.

There hasn’t been much follow up of this story in the press but assuming Sajjad’s allegations are correct, this makes for yet another innovative use of the blasphemy laws to settle scores. This case appears to be the latest in a long line of obviously malicious cases framed against innocent men, women and even children.

If it is true that both the federal and provincial governments have turned a cold shoulder to the accused in such an obvious case of malafide, then it is apparent that the ministers approached are frightened of going the Salman Taseer way. He was gunned down for trying to obtain justice for another woman accused of blasphemy. In that case too, the real story when it surfaced, proved the allegations were vengeful and untruthful. Yet, that woman remains forgotten in jail. Almost all cases of blasphemy when investigated turn out to be false and the authorities know it. Yet there is no political will, either on part of legislators or on part of government servants, to tackle the problem for fear of their own lives. In every case that has been reported in recent years, whether it was accusations against former federal minister Sherry Rehman, human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, the child who misspelled in an exam, the man who threw away a calling card of a salesman named Mohammed, the retarded girl who was accused of burning pages of the Quran, or cases of countless others, accusations turned out to be untrue and malafide. Yet, cases continue to be registered and innocents continue to suffer horrific consequences.

Whilst the fundamental issue are the blasphemy laws, which were amended by Zia ul Haq with malafide intent to begin with and which ought to be repealed for the very reason that to date they have been used only for victimization, it seems to be useless to argue this. Moreover, the very thought of controlling freedom of belief, speech, expression or opinion with laws is repugnant. We all know that no one has the guts anymore to even stand up for someone accused of blasphemy lest they get gunned down by the Qadris of this world, let alone trying to modify or repeal the laws.

Hence it needs to be seriously considered that till the laws remain on the statute books, the procedure to register FIR in a blasphemy case be amended such that a mere accusation is not enough cause for registration. Given that once an FIR is registered, the victim of blasphemy accusation stands condemned whether innocent or guilty, the government should focus on making it near impossible for spurious cases to be registered. There may be various approaches that can be taken to achieve this. One way could be to form an independent body that by law has to review and approve the registrations of FIR in blasphemy cases. Taking cognizance of the fact that blasphemy laws are only misused in this country, an exception to the rules governing registration of FIR’s could be instituted. It is a bizarre solution, but it could work for the convoluted problem at hand: we want to change the laws but are too scared to. Hence, we aim to make registration of false and malicious cases impossible. Said independent body could include, for example, a judge of a high court, a senior journalist, a civil servant, a human rights activist, a religious scholar etc, etc. The constitution of the independent body may be refined further. The crucial matter, however, is that blasphemy cases may not be registered with police without independent and thorough investigation and oversight that can circumvent an innocent person’s entanglement with the judicial system, and incarceration that can last a couple of dozen years before innocence is proven.

The key issue at hand is that once a victim is ensnared in the legal process (which begins with the registration of an FIR), it is already too late to obtain remedy. The accused may eventually escape death, but his life remains condemned, first with dozens of years in prison, followed by exile. Innocent people, mothers of young children, spend years in prison on the basis of fabricated accusations; accusations that are increasingly being used for reasons of revenge, malice and economic or financial motivations. Therefore, if the laws cannot in reality be amended or repealed any time soon, the procedure to apply the law should be, to safeguard justice.

n    The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.