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August 9, 2018

Fatal allegations


August 9, 2018

Allegations of blasphemy, even if falsely levelled, can end up being a death sentence for the accused. Even though the state has never carried out a death sentence for blasphemy, scores have been killed by mobs after being accused of blasphemy. In many cases, those accusations turned out to be unfounded. The killing of Sindh-based artist Qutub Rind in Lahore may be yet another example of how blasphemy accusations are used to target the vulnerable. Qutub, who was a student at the National College of Arts, was tortured and murdered after a dispute over rent with his landlord. The landlord, his brother and another accomplice beat Qutub with a rod and pushed him from the third floor of the house. Qutub’s family claim that the murderers accused him of blasphemy and that he had been the victim of a social media campaign. They have also accused the police of covering up the truth behind the murder and pressuring the family to only register the case against one of the three suspects. This is reminiscent of how law-enforcement officials have reacted in the past in such cases. Even if the initial dispute was over rent, it is the duty of the police to fully investigate and take appropriate action rather than immediately deny the family’s claims.

Should it turn out that blasphemy allegations were used to justify killing Qutub – whose work as an artist was concerned with inequality and the caste system – he would be only the latest where such accusations have been used against those who advocate for political and social change. This is reminiscent of the murder of Mashal Khan, a similarly freethinking student who was the subject of a vicious false blasphemy campaign and murdered by a mob because of his activism. There too the authorities tried to downplay the incident and it was only outrage from the public that forced them into action. The problem isn’t restricted to law-enforcement officials. Such accusations have been used as a weapon by politicians and certain sections of the media as well. On social media, anonymous accounts routinely level unsubstantiated allegations of all kinds. The only way to prevent this is by ensuring that those levelling such false charges face punishment. Cyber crime laws too specifically mention punishments for defaming people online and baseless blasphemy accusations are essentially inviting violence on to those who have been accused.

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