Just yesterday someone tweeted that the state is a silent onlooker in the context of HRCP regional coordinator and advocate Rashid Rehman’s murder. Progressive souls increasingly frustrated and angry at these blasphemy related murders so foul, point to the failure, silence or paralysis of the state in dealing with the crime.

But there is something wrong with even the nomenclature we use to describe what is happening, or to express what we want the state to do. A silent onlooker implies someone simply detached from proceedings, neither helping nor harming. Thus when we accuse the state of being a silent onlooker, we are implicitly asking it stop ‘onlooking’ and do something, to take some action.

Implicit to the term failure is an unsuccessful attempt at success, and therefore blaming the state for having failed means we are imputing an attempt by the state to put things right in which it failed. Similarly, when we criticize the state for apparent paralysis where blasphemy related killings are concerned, we are assuming a will or desire to do something, something good that is, but a bodily or physical inability to do so.

This language clearly indicates that we are not clear about what is going on, or what needs to change. The state is not a silent onlooker. No, the state is an active participant in blasphemy killings. It is not paralyzed at all, but actively complicit in the accusations and arrests. The state has not failed; it has been enabling incarceration of innocents, and aiding unfair trials of accused.

Though a cursory look at most blasphemy cases in Pakistan will demonstrate the same principles at work, just one horrifying example of Mr. Rehman and his client Mr. Junaid Hafeez should suffice here.

Firstly, it is the state that provides the open and alluring prospects for spurious and malafide accusations of blasphemy to be entertained seriously by the courts in shape of the blasphemy laws. The state made the laws, and the state remains responsible for not amending or repealing laws, especially at the time the 18th amendment was introduced to clean up the constitution of Pakistan during the previous government’s tenure. Thanks to the state, the blasphemy laws of the country continue to take the lives of innocents with increasing frequency in this country. It is ironic, every time anyone is lynched or murdered, everyone looks to the state to bring perpetrators to justice. It is almost laughable.

After an accusation has been made, the next state instrument, it’s law enforcement agencies, swing in with their role: the most ridiculous and nonsensical FIRs are registered without a shred of investigation, evidence or even exact description of the crime. Alleged acts or words of blasphemy are not even described. Yet, such FIRs are deemed sufficient to proceed against anyone accused of having committed a crime punishable with death.

In the case of Mr. Junaid Hafeez, he was accused of being the administrator of a Facebook page that is run by a pseudonym, and allegedly contains disrespectful commentary on the prophet’s wives. Reportedly, the police did not even check whether the IP address the Facebook page is being managed from, belongs to Mr. Hafeez or not. And reportedly, while Mr. Hafeez remains behind bars presumably without access to the internet, the Facebook page continues to be operated and updated. It might be useful to mull over whether thus far in this absurd saga, it is the state at work or the accusers of Mr. Hafeez.

Next, the state is obliged to ensure a fair and free trial of all accused, even of those it has facilitated in landing in this envious position. As in Mr. Hafeez’s case, neither are most lawyers willing to take on blasphemy cases, nor judges of junior courts will to stick their necks out to return fair or just verdicts. Once again, it is because the state will not provide them with the security that they deserve. Nor will the state prosecute those that threaten or perpetrate violence on lawyers and judges in these cases. Only after several months of trying to convince different lawyers, was Mr. Hafeez’s family able to engage Mr. Rashid Rehman as defense counsel. And only personal courage and strength of his convictions caused Mr. Rehman to take up the case, not any protection offered by the state.

Indeed, Mr. Rehman was threatened repeatedly, including during one of the hearings and in the presence of the presiding judge. Indeed, Mr. Rehman asked the judge to take notice. Indeed, Mr. Rehman asked for security. But the representatives of the state had discharged their duties: the police had registered the FIR and arrested the accused. The magistrate had remanded the accused. The judge sat on the bench listening to the case and the threats. Neither were aggressors apprehended, nor protection provided to Mr. Rehman.

Whilst the petitioner’s lawyer and other lawyers from the Multan bar are on record having threatened to kill Mr. Rehman, with several of these persons’ statements together with their photographs having been recorded in newsprint, the FIR registered for the murder of Mr. Rehman is against the usual ‘unidentified persons’. On the other hand, a Facebook page is run by a pseudonym, alleged insulting remarks unspecified, yet the FIR is registered against one Mr. Junaid Hafeez.

At every step, the state provided and facilitated the incarceration of the one and murder of the other. Neither was the state ‘silently onlooking’, nor paralyzed, nor failed. It succeeded very well.

 The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.­


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