When the entire Muslim Ummah was observing the Youm-e-Aushoor to denounce the atrocities committed in the Battle of Karbala, there were some in Pakistan who had significantly revived a kind of brutality necessarily associated with the very same incident. In a tragic incident in Punjab, a Christian couple was burnt alive in a brick kiln by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. This gruesome act speaks volumes about the state of growing intolerance and apathy in the body politic. Regrettably, lacking compassion and empathy for others, religious faith has readily been replaced by certain stuck-in-the-mud theological dogmas. Indeed, no moral, religious or legal code in the world can allow such arbitrary acts of violence.

The most disturbing aspect of this incident is that it involves hundreds of people calling themselves Muslims. It reflects the very state of our collective conscience and behavior. In this God-gifted state, people are being killed and persecuted on account of their religious beliefs and affiliations. Over time, we have witnessed substantial decay and deterioration in the social and religious institutions in the country. The polity has undergone significant radicalization. While endeavors have been made to ‘Islamize’ the country, hardly any have been made to humanize it.

The phenomenon of lynching generally denotes an extra legal trial and punishment inflicted by an individual or group of a people on another individual without due process of law. Lynching is a typical manifestation of mob rule. It essentially departs from the basic doctrine of natural justice which provides that a person is presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty.

The recent public lynching of a Christian couple is not the first incident of this kind in Pakistan. There have been numerous such incidents in the country. Former governor Punjab Salman Tasseer and former federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated on account of criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Some months ago, a human rights activist and lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was also killed for providing legal aid to an accused in Multan. Likewise, an elderly member of the Ahmadi community, also accused of blasphemy, was killed by a teenager inside the police lock-up in Sheikhupura district. In Gojra and Joseph colony (Lahore), an angry mob set ablaze Christian homes after hearing an alleged act of blasphemy by an individual. With a few exceptions, all culprits in the aforementioned incidents have somehow managed to go scot free. It raises many eyebrows over the credibility and effectiveness of our criminal justice system.

At present, there exist certain definite substantive and procedural laws dealing with the issue of blasphemy in Pakistan. Sections 295-B, 295-C, 298-A of Pakistan’s Penal Code specifically provide punishments for any act of blasphemy vis-à-vis the Holy Quran, Holy Prophet (PBUH) and other holy personalities in Islam. Likewise, keeping in view the sensitivity of the issue, under section 156-A of Criminal Procedure Code, it has been made mandatory that no police officer below the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) will investigate into any alleged crime of blasphemy regarding the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Under Article 10-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, every person, charged with any criminal offence, is entitled to fair trial after due process.

It has been generally observed that the human rights bodies and the so-called liberal quarters in the country have strongly demanded the abolition of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. As a matter of fact, the issue of persecution of minorities hardly involves any existing blasphemy law in Pakistan. This issue arises when people take the law into their own hands. In the absence of these laws, people will be more inclined to be hostile. All we need, is to ensure proper enforcement of blasphemy laws and plug the loopholes in the existing criminal justice system in Pakistan.

In the absence of the rule of law and an effective coercive apparatus, the state is rapidly and gradually losing writ over its own territory. People choose to openly defy laws and persecute others with impunity. Recently, we have also observed that the so-called protagonists of ‘change’ instigated the masses to stop paying taxes and utility bills by trying to launch a civil disobedience movement in Pakistan. PTI’s leader Imran Khan has publicly threatened to hang and punish some senior bureaucrats in the future to make them subservient to him. He is demanding the resignation of an elected prime minster on account of alleged electoral rigging. In fact, acting and demanding something on the basis of unsubstantiated evidence has been only the hallmark of the lynch law. The ‘container politics’ has somehow added more violence and disruption to the national discourse of the country. Presently, the people of Pakistan should be taught to respect and obey the laws of the land instead of defying and behaving violently.

In order to make the young generation more moderate and tolerant, the subject of comparative religions and certain lessons on interfaith harmony should be incorporated in the curriculum of our education institutions. Pulpits and loudspeakers in mosques should not be allowed to be misused by semi-literate and narrow-minded clerics. There should be some serious endeavours to exhaustively overhaul all important components of the criminal justice system in Pakistan. No state can afford to neglect its primary responsibility of protecting its subjects against inhuman and arbitrary acts. Nor can an individual be allowed to assume the responsibility of a state by acting as prosecutor, adjudicator and executioner at the same time.

The writer is a lawyer.