Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has asked people to report online blasphemy, saying it is a punishable offence. The latest message reads: “Uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on internet is a punishable offence under the law. Such content should be reported on (email address) for legal action.”

A day later some people received the edited/refined version of the message it said, “Uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on internet is a punishable offence under the law. Instead of taking law in hand, such content should be reported on (email address) for legal action.” The addition has changed the uncertainty and connotation of the message. It seems more like an awareness message as compared to the earlier message. 

The latest initiative comes after in wake of a trilogy of blasphemy-related incidents; Mardan mob lynching, a man almost beaten to death on reports he declared himself an apostle in Chitral, and a child’s death after a charged mob attacked a Hindu man alleged of blasphemy in Hub.

Divided public opinion

PTA’s latest bid to tackle blasphemy has divided public opinion. Dr Khalid Zaheer, a religious scholar told The Nation, “I think PTA wants to convey a positive message to the citizens of Pakistan through their latest initiative.”

“Religion doesn't allow any action against an individual's freedom of expression except if it causes someone's life to be in danger. It seems that possibility was at the back of their mind when they took the decision.”

Gul Bukhari, a journalist said, “PTA is working on the directives of the prime minister and interior minister. A similar initiative by Federal Investigation Agency resulted in public outcry. PTA should stop sending such messages.”

Undebatable issue

She said blasphemy cases are an excuse to settle personal disputes, and those found guilty of blasphemy are mostly suffering from some kind of mental disease. “It’s a fire burning us all up. A fire that should have been doused by government institutions, it is being fuelled by them now.”

Bukhari said blasphemy has become an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. It’s so unfortunate that when one talks about blasphemy law people call it blasphemy. Even though Justice Asif Saeed Khosa has said criticising the law does not make it a punishable offence.”

Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and social activist speaking to The Nation said, “This is not (a) surprising (outcome) as Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court has recently tasked the Federal Investigation Agency to issue a notice to the public asking them to inform FIA of anyone committing blasphemy, now the learned judge is after Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.”

Jibran Nasir further said, “The public has been given the impression that they are responsible to safeguard the dignity of the Holy Prophet; however they have not realized how dangerous this can be. Till today there is no specific definition of blasphemy even in Section 295-C of the Penal Code. If people are left to their own devices then any person irrespective of sect who writes or will write any material on the Prophet that the other sect does not agree to, will be targeted for blasphemy.”

Jibran Nasir also said this may further enmity, “Earlier people who wanted to get even with their enemies would hire assassins to get the enemy killed, however now such notices are enough to create chaos in the country. It is shameful how the entire bar even the Supreme Court bar, is silent on this issue. Why this issue is not being talked about in the Parliament? If state institutions are going to be promoting this then we are turning into a banana republic. Making people frustrated, angry, insecure and relying on the intellect of a lay person of what blasphemy is, thus allowing people to take out their grudges against each other.”

According to press reports a case was recently filed by Salman Shahid the son-in-law of Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in Islamabad contending that blasphemous content on social media websites was "hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims."

When IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui heard the case he dictated the order with tears rolling down his checks that “the Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) will be our savior on the Day of Judgment is the most sacred personality and blasphemy has been committed against him. We would not leave this issue for the bureaucracy to handle.”

He further observed that “there will be proceedings against blasphemers and against those who remain silent spectators. This is the greatest form of terrorism and people involved in this heinous act were the biggest terrorists.”