The Anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge, on Friday conferred a 10-year and four months jail term to the prayer leader of a mosque at Qaimpur Town, near Hasilpur, for hate speech . The convict, Maulana Abdul Ghani, was arrested by the Qaimpur police after he delivered the speech against a particular sect about two months back, with a fine of 0.7 million rupees.


With Section 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act stating a ‘prohibition of acts intended or likely to stir up sectarian violence’, the federal government has asked the provinces, apart from making laws to curb rampant hate speech and heaps of extremist material within their remit, to make sure that there was no abuse of the loudspeaker, which most extremists, posing as religious scholars, employed as an effective tool to brainwash young minds. However, with the proliferation of not only terrorist acts against particular sects or communities in Pakistan, but also a media that propagates certain ideologies, are these laws really enough to tackle the root causes of extremism?
Since 2007, over 2,000 alleged terrorists, who have been accused of having been involved in high profile terrorism cases, have been freed by the Anti-Terrorism Courts of the country. If the security agencies are to be believed, a large number of them have rejoined terrorist fronts. This shows a clear failure on the part of these courts, where the weakness of Pakistan’s prosecution and judicial system is once again in the limelight. It was only after the atrocious Peshawar attack last December that more than one politician and analyst spoke forcefully of the need to reform the laws so that terrorists would be held accountable in the courts. Given the blatant crisis that we are facing collectively, there should simply be no reason to explain why terrorists are rarely convicted by the courts. Be it the flawed investigation, the lack of evidence or the fear of the terrorists, all these reasons lead to those accused of terrorism being freed by the courts, and ultimately no justice being given to the unbearable amount of people that die every year because of them.


Given the delay and unreliability caused by the ATC’s it is also necessary to make hate speech an issue in the public sphere and the print and digital media to help shape a very necessary but forsaken debate. In a country, where authorities continue to enforce blasphemy laws, regulations designed to marginalise the Ahmadiyya and Shia community, and on various occasions restrict religious freedom, one can see that even if this monitoring of religious sermons might be done with a ‘noble’ intention, it still does not tackle the root cause of intolerance in Pakistan. A more nuanced system of accountability for hate crimes and hate speech is needed, but we might be taking steps in the right direction.