Published on June 12, 2020
The Asma Jahangir (AGHS) Legal Aid Cell condemns the dangerous and contentious misuse of the Blasphemy law of Pakistan for the purposes of threatening, suppressing, and eliminating the academic individuals of Pakistan. Recently, two more academic individuals have been subjected to a malicious campaign endangering their security and future as academics in society.
On 10.06.2020, Professor Sajid Soomro an author, activist, and academic at the Shah Abdul Latif University at Khairpur was arrested on an FIR lodged by the State against him for alleged Blasphemy.
Additionally, Dr. Arfana Mallah, an activist, academic, and member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was threatened on the same day by JUI Secretary of Sindh, Mr. Rashid Mahmood Soomro, for proceedings of the allegation of Blasphemy which gravely puts Dr. Arfana in a life-threatening situation.
Nearly 1,549 blasphemy cases have been registered in Pakistan between the years 1987 and 2017 and more than 75 people have been killed extra-judicially on blasphemy allegations. Some of them were even targeted after being acquitted in blasphemy cases by Courts.
This repetitive victimization and targeting of academics and activists to suppress and silence them by using a non-bailable offense is a grave miscarriage of justice for the accused as it takes a lifetime to navigate their right to freedom through the present justice system. Previously, the unjust persecution of Mr. Junaid Hafeez is another example of an academic living through this travesty for years.
He is a Pakistani scholar from Rajanpur, who was arrested in 2014 when he was only 29 years of age and has been kept in solitary confinement since charged over an allegedly controversial content of a Facebook page. AGHS condemns the misuse of such draconian laws and the questionable power it allows to settle personal scores by invoking religious sentiments.
Such a malicious form of exploitation of laws is condemned and considered a direct attack on freedom of expression and academic thought in Pakistan.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is alarmed by the recurring wave of vicious campaigns against academics. Earlier, Professor Sajid Soomro of Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur was arrested on charges of blasphemy and sedition.
When Dr. Arfana Mallah, a prominent human rights activist in Hyderabad, expressed her dismay at the incident, she too was immediately subjected to a vicious campaign led by clerics with political associations, calling for her to be charged with blasphemy.
Professor Soomro and Dr. Mallah have done nothing more than exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression – their right as citizens, their duty as academics. Indeed, it has become frighteningly common to hear of charges of sedition and blasphemy being used to intimidate citizens who dare speak up. Lest we forget, Junaid Hafeez, Mashal Khan, and Professor Khalid Hameed were all victims of a skewed, capricious system built to suppress academic freedom among teachers and students alike.
HRCP deplores all such attempts to scuttle academic freedom by targeting intellectuals on flimsy grounds. The state must ensure the safety of its citizens and prohibit the misuse of the blasphemy and sedition laws to silence independent voices or settle personal scores.
Women’s Action Forum (WAF)
Women’s Action Forum (WAF) condemns the threat to lodge an FIR against Dr. Arfana Mallah, a member of WAF, an academic and activist, by Rashid Mahmood Soomro of the JUI, who issued instructions to JUI secretary Sindh, Taj Mohammed, to proceed against her. Allegations leveled against her amount to incitement and pose a danger to Dr. Mallah’s safety.
She has routinely been targeted by this group in the past in an attempt to suppress her voice and activism. We demand that the police thwart such nefarious attempts and that this situation is handled in a timely and lawful manner before any damage is caused.
The blatant attempt to persecute human rights activists for their committed work for the poor and marginalized people of Sindh must end. Laws are meant to protect citizens against abuse not to be abused as tools of blackmail. The procedure of filing such capricious cases under allegations of blasphemy must be reformed immediately to prevent injustices against the innocent and those working for people’s basic rights.
Aurat March (all chapters)
All chapters of Aurat March (Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad & Shikarpur) are alarmed by and condemn in the strongest possible terms the accusations leveled against Dr. Arfana Mallah, a prominent academic, WAF member, Aurat March organizer, and women’s rights activist, and the threats to file an FIR against her. Such a public accusation is a deliberate and calculated attempt to provoke violence against Dr. Mallah and her family.
The threat to file an FIR has been made by Rashid Mahmood Soomro from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). Dr. Mallah is a professor at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, a dedicated women’s rights activist with years of experience, a member of the University Syndicate where she has worked to support university employees and halt corruption on
campus. The threat to file an FIR is an attempt to silence her and stop the important grassroots work that she does.
Too often charges of blasphemy are used to silence progressive voices and those standing against corrupt practices. We call on the Sindh government and local police to ensure Dr. Mallah’s immediate safety and protection and to hold the accusers accountable to just legal action for callously endangering her life.
Progressive Academics’ Collective (PAC)
The Progressive Academics’ Collective is seriously concerned for the safety of two of our colleagues, Professor Sajid Soomro, Professor at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, and Professor Arfana Mallah, Professor at the M. A. Kazi Institute of Chemistry at the University of Sindh. Professor Soomro, whose writings promote inter-ethnic unity, was arrested on Wednesday under blasphemy charges.
Professor Mallah, who is a prominent women’s rights activist and supporter of various social causes, has been threatened with an FIR by Rashid Mahmood Soomro of the JUI-F; this is just the latest
in an ongoing smear campaign against her and other rights activists for the past several months, which is being orchestrated by Soomro and his supporters.
Both cases are extremely troubling and are part of a wider campaign to silence critical voices within academia. We stand in solidarity with both professors.
Both of these cases are part of a wider trend to use the charge of blasphemy as a political weapon to silence pro-people and critical voices, as was the case with the late Mashal Khan and with Junaid Hafeez who is still languishing in prison. Without the freedom of conscience, freedom of expression (barring hate speech) and critical debate, Pakistani academia stands no chance to further knowledge and scholarship in the
colleges and universities in the country.
We thus demand that the Government of Sindh and the Government of Pakistan take immediate action against Mr. Soomro and all those who are behind the hate campaign against Professor Sajid Soomro and Professor Arfana Mallah. We demand that Professor Sajid Soomro be immediately released and that all charges should be dropped against him and that both he and Professor Mallah are guaranteed state protection against possible acts of violence resulting from this malicious campaign.