Police barred from booking PTI leaders on blasphemy charges

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday directed the Islamabad police not to register blasphemy cases against the leadership of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) over the Masjid-e-Nabwi incident wherein ‘unknown individuals’ harassed the members of the federal government.

The government had accused the PTI leadership of inciting the heckling and harassment of its members, including the information minister, at the mosque. Subsequently, several cases were registered across the country against PTI leaders, including Chairman Imran Khan, alleging blasphemy. The PTI had approached the IHC against the FIRs to seek relief.

During the hearing, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, one of the petitioners, said in the past no government had resorted to such tactics. “We do not have any hope from the interior minister but the law minister is a 'literate' person,” he said, adding that the use of religion for political gains was condemnable.

CJ Athar Minallah asked whether the PTI leader trusted the bench. “We do trust you…who else can we trust if not this court,” he added. Justice Minallah said the use of religion in politics was not right and termed the cases against PTI a serious violation of fundamental rights.

Read 42 Muslims accused of blasphemy in 2021

He said the blasphemy allegations resulted in the murder of Mashal Khan and Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot among others. Political parties should promote a culture of tolerance, he said, adding, “In the hindsight, the cases registered in this context are not right.”

Faisal Chaudhry, the counsel for the PTI, requested the court to examine the report of the Islamabad police. "As per this report, investigations were underway over four complaints but no cases have been registered so far,” he added. This is the job of the state, CJ Minallah responded.

The IHC CJ said the FIR copy available with the court doesn’t even have the “required ingredients” to register the case. The religious feelings of the people should be respected but the state also has some duties, he said, adding that this court had dismissed a similar petition recently.

The use of blasphemy laws for political mileage was a “blasphemous act in itself”, Justice Minallah said, adding that in the past the state has remained involved in similar practices. “What is the stance of the federal government on the issue,” the IHC CJ asked. “There are questions of serious nature in front of this court…either [the government] take the stance that the blasphemy law has not been misused in the past,” the CJ added. He said innocent lives were lost due to the misuse of religion.

Justice Minallah asked how many people were nominated in the FIRs. Fawad replied at least “500-700 people” were booked by the government on such charges.

During the hearing, the IHC CJ said the Constitution had been insulted many a time over the past 70 years but the political leadership could correct this course. Fawad said it could be done if the “leaders of the institutions” also join the politicians. “We have defined the concept of the ‘state’ for you…the federal government cannot distance itself from the issue,” IHC CJ Minallah added.

Read more Pakistani pilgrims held for ‘disrespecting’ Masjid-e-Nabwi

“If a perception is being created that the cases were registered due to political reasons [even] then it was the responsibility of the state to counter this impression.” CJ Minallah further added the state had used religion in the past and put the lives of ordinary citizens in danger.

“The government needs to tell this court how would it handle the current issue,” he said, adding that the state should stop the use of religion by anyone for political gains. The IHC CJ urged the state to take effective steps to stop such practices.

Fawad said the PTI was ready to make a commitment that it would not use the “religion card” against its opponents and added that he wanted the same pledge from the government. It should be decided for once and all that religion will not be used in the political theatre. He requested the court to direct the government to withdraw these FIRs.

Deputy Attorney General Syed Tayyab Shah said the incident at Masjid-e-Nabwi offended the religious sentiments of the citizens. He added that the cases were filed on the complaints of “private persons”. The court asked him to inform the bench about how these cases will be dealt with in the future.

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