Yet another citizen of Pakistan lost his life following allegations that he had been “publishing blasphemous content online”. Though no case had been filed against the Abdul Wali Khan University student prior to the incident and police had not been involved in investigating the blasphemy charges, the Mardan University mob still felt no qualms in killing a 23-year old.

Recently, in a report presented in the Senate, Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) proposed some procedural amendments to the country’s blasphemy laws. The major aim of the document was to avoid the laws’ alleged misuse. Though these proposed procedural amendments were quite a few, one of these discussed the need for criminal cases to be registered against those who hurled false blasphemy-related allegations.

It goes without saying that sentiments run very high on the issue of blasphemy in Pakistan. This is something understandable as, being Muslims, we believe in respecting all religions and expect ours to be respected too. These feelings are further enhanced when it comes to the respect and reverence of the Last Messenger of Allah, Hazrat Muhammad (SAWW) - the blasphemy law under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code especially ensuring this.

However, what happens if/when a false accusation is hurled against someone just to settle a personal score? One wonders whether, in such circumstances, the accused are able to protect themselves and prove they are innocent. What happens to the accusing complainant and witnesses involved? What happens if - as in this case - an accused is killed even before getting a chance to prove his innocence? Does the law of Pakistan spring into action to protect the country’s falsely accused citizen and punish the ones who have killed or committed perjury? Given the very grave nature of the accusations involved and the extreme penalties they entail, one would theorize that this is exactly what would happen in such cases. The sad reality about theories, however, is that they are, more often than not, quite the opposite of what is practiced.

The normal course of action in any legal system across the globe is that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Due to the intensity of emotions involved when dealing with blasphemy allegations, however, the accused is presumed guilty and the burden is on them to prove their innocence. No matter how much time that might take, one has to demonstrate with evidence that they have not committed blasphemy. Even after they have been proven innocent by courts, the stigma of the blasphemy allegation stays with them for their entire lives.

From 2005 to 2015, at least nine out of 14 appeals to high courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan following convictions on charges under 295-C resulted in acquittals. After their acquittal and release, many accused in blasphemy cases had no choice but to relocate or leave Pakistan because of the ongoing risks. The sad part is that their families had to face repercussions with them. In the absence of any law to govern the actions of such complainants, the fate of the accused involved is left at the whims of the accusers. There are many examples in the recent past where false blasphemy allegations were made to cover up some ulterior motive.

In many instances, the courts have categorically stated that the accusations were based on false statements and had underlying causes that had nothing to do with blasphemy. In 2012, while hearing a petition filed by the lawyers of a 14-year-old Christian girl with a learning disability, Rimsha Masih, the Islamabad High Court observed, “allowing the petitioner to be grilled through a trial in the given circumstances would amount to allow the courts to be used as a tool for [an] ulterior motive.” Similarly, in a case against four Ahmadiya men for disseminating “objectionable material” in Lahore in 2013, the trial court’s judgment read: “…it is proved on record that the prosecution case registered against the accused person is result of malice, ill-will, malafide and prejudice of the complainant and witnesses against the accused persons on the basis of their sect/faith.”

In yet another trial in Sindh, three men underwent trial for blasphemy. They were accused of possessing booklets published by a Shia-owned printing press that allegedly contained “objectionable sentences” relating to the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAWW) companions. However, all three individuals were acquitted of the charges in February 2016. The trial court stated, “It seems that photostat copies have been foisted on the accused with some ulterior motive.” Unfortunately, however, until the result of the false case against these three could be decided, they had lost more than four years of their lives to the darkness of uncertainty.

The Mardan incident was very unfortunate to say the least as neither had an FIR been lodged with the police, nor had a court of law decided that the student had committed blasphemy. The mob took matters into their hands and acted on behalf of the police and court – which again is against the spirit of Islam. What if the student killed was innocent and someone had just spread rumours against him? The Holy Qur’an says: “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (5:32)

Had there been a law to protect the accused and punish the accuser in case of perjury and had there been a precedent of the implementation of such a law, this student would have survived to be tried in a court of law like a civilized citizen of a civilized country. The accused should at least be given a chance to be tried in a court of law – which is according to the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (SAWW).

Will those who killed this student (and many before him) without any solid evidence ever wonder that they committed a crime - which even Islam forbids? Will the government bring a procedural change as proposed by the NCHR and register criminal cases against those who hurl false blasphemy-related allegations? Will they ever be tried and will the families of the accused ever be safe? These are questions that need to be answered in totality if the government wants to stop the killing of its citizens merely on accusations.