The newly-installed unity government, which just won the rule of Punjab on Friday, has started off with a new conflict by initiating a ‘blasphemy’ case against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and some other leaders of his party, on the basis of sloganeering by scores of pilgrims against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s delegation at Masjid-i-Nabwi in Saudi Arabia. Invoking blasphemy clauses against political people cannot be condoned. This is the blatant use of police against political opponents, a tradition, which was sadly kept alive by the previous government. According to the first information of the report registered under Sections 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and registered on the complaint of a common citizen of Faisalabad, the following people are suspected of committing the crime: Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill, Qasim Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir, Aneel Musarrat, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq. They are accused of planning the mosque sloganeering.
Though the mosque act cannot be condoned as a place of worship that should provide solitude and peace to the visitors, similarly, using the incident to contain political opponents using blasphemy laws is equally abhorrent. ‘Blasphemy’ is a sensitive issue, which must be dealt with very carefully. The crowd, which acted spontaneously, and at a certain point was uncivilised, should not be equated to a religious disrespectful act. Even if the incident of the sloganeering turns out to be planned, it should not be seen as more than an attention-seeking political stunt. People cheer and boo the political people wherever they find a chance to do so. A tweet by Maryam Nawaz is available where she is seen applauding the heckling of (then prime minister) Imran Khan at the Grand Mosque of Makkah. What makes the case very grave now is the statement coming from Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah that the case is against those who violate the sanctity of Roza-i-Rasool (peace be upon him). Turning his words into action, the government has arrested Sheikh Rashid’s nephew which the opposition calls ‘kidnapping’. He was arrested at the airport after he travelled back to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia. This will just raise the political temperature, which has already gone to a new height after the recent developments related to the change of power. The opposition’s retaliation will make the matter worse. The country cannot afford to make public places and no-go areas for the politicians. At the end of the day, these are the politicians who unite the people for greater causes. The government should review the blasphemy case before the matter goes to the fanatics.