According to the father of Adil Babar, one of the two boys who were booked, Babar Sandhu Masih said that his 18-year-old son Adil and his neighbour, 14-year-old neighbour Simon Masih were arrested by the Race Course police on the complaint of police constable Zahid Sohail.
According to the FIR, Zahid Sohail claimed that he was on his way to the mosque when he saw the two playing in the street and said that he had heard them insult the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Meanwhile, Babar Masih has a different story to tell. The man who is a painter by profession said he was resting and he woke up after hearing a fight. He saw the police constable fighting with Simon Nadeem and saw that his son was trying to stop the fight. Upon questioning him, the constable said that they had insulted him.
However when the neighbourhood elders gathered and tried to find evidence of any insult, Babar Masih said, the constable did not have any such evidence to give and went away.
Later in the evening, the Race Course police carried out a raid and arrested the two boys on pretext of blasphemy, with Constable Zahid Sohail acting as complainant, said Babar Masih.
Both the boys belong to a lower socioeconomic background and Masih works at an auto workshop as a car painter. They have not even had access to a lawyer yet, while some elements may even be trying to exploit them in the situation, said a source who knew the families. “Such people suddenly come into the fray when they see a family suffering and then ask them for money with a promise to help them, but what actually happens is the opposite,” said the source.
“The boys were booked under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law,” he said. Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes prohibits disrespect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and is punishable by death.
Despite the fact that the Juvenile Justice Act 2018 disallows any death sentence to be given to a minor, Advocate Saif-ul-Mulook who has fought many cases of blasphemy in court, says that there is no way in which the Act would be implemented in this case.
“Juvenile courts operate completely separately and cases filed under blasphemy law have a different set of conditions,” he said while speaking to Voicepk. “All juvenile case whether they are murder cases or other, are tried in juvenile courts. But with this kind of case, there is no distinction between a juvenile and an adult. It will be tried in a regular court.” He specified that the JJA would not override.
“When someone has been accused of blasphemy in this way, there is little chance of that person finding a way out,” says Mulook, dishing out the hard reality. “He or she is gone. Look at Junaid Hafeez and all the others. Ten years pass before they even have a chance of an appeal.”
According to data compiled by the Center for Social Justice, there have been at least 57 cases of alleged blasphemy from January to May 10 just this year. Four blasphemy suspects were also lynched and killed by angry mobs during the same period.
Eight incidents occurred in January, with a significant increase to 17 cases in February, seven cases in March, another surge to 19 cases in April, and six cases in May (up to the 10th), totaling 57 accused individuals.
Statistics showed that the highest number of blasphemy cases, 28, were reported in Punjab, followed by Sindh with 16, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with eight, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir with five.
“With the two young boys being booked yesterday, it adds to the number bringing it to 59 till May 20th, meaning the trend is certainly on the rise,” said Peter Jacob, Executive Director of CSJ. “The issue needs to be tackled properly and it comes to the government even if it is an interim government. We urge that the federal and provincial governments should take action against the abuse and they should form a strong narrative to explain to everyone that the law is being misused and multiple violations are taking place under the pretext of blasphemy laws.”
Because of rampant misuse of the blasphemy law, several people have been falsely accused.
In May a court released a Christian woman charged with blasphemy on bail after she and a Muslim coworker were accused of intentionally burning papers containing Quranic verses.
Mussarat Bibi, 45, and Muhammad Sarmad worked at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District. On April 15, both workers were told to clean the school’s storeroom which was filled with paper and other scraps. The two reportedly gathered the wasted paper and other scraps in a corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burnt items also contained holy pages.
They were charged under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes and sent to Pakpattan jail on judicial remand.
“Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.” Section 295-B
They were released from prison on bail on May 13.
Senior journalist Asher John spoke to Voicepk.net, and said that weaponisation of the law is the root cause for false accusations.
“While the blasphemy laws cannot be abolished, it is integral that they may also not be misused,” he said. “There must be steps taken to deter the misuse of the law apart from the usual lobbying and advocacy.”