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Blasphemy cases: False accusers escape punishment

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The impact of blasphemy laws on human rights

LAHORE: A number of blasphemy cases continue to be registered against innocent people out of personal vendetta, yet routinely no action is taken against complainants whose accusations prove to be false after due investigations.

The incidence of implicating innocent people under blasphemy laws is much higher in Punjab than the rest of the country.

Astonishingly, 801 of the 1,031 people imprisoned under these laws are Muslim. Of the remaining 230 prisoners 162 are Christians, 15 are Sikh, 28 are Buddhists while 25 persons are adherents of other faiths.

Currently, a total of 130 people are facing blasphemy charges in various prisons across Punjab, including 122 Muslims and eight Christians.

Official data obtained by The Express Tribune shows that at least 232 people were freed from 32 jails in the province because of lack of evidence and as many as 554 people were out on bail because of an “out-of-court settlement” – a recourse unavailable to such accused. Of the total, cases against 339 were dropped, 13 died in jails of natural causes, one detainee committed suicide in jail, one was murdered in jail while two prisoners were murdered outside jails.

Only one under trial prisoner detained in district jail Lahore Under Section 295, 20 under-trial prisoners detained in six prisons in Punjab, including 12 prisoners only in Central Jail, Faisalabad, under Section 295-A, 40 under-trial prisoners detained in 17 jails across Punjab under Section 295-B while there are only 17 under-trail prisoners in eight jails.

As many as five prisoners have been convicted under Section 295-A, 22 convicted under Section 295-B, 26 under Section 295-C while only nine prisoners have been sentenced to death.

Blasphemy laws were introduced by General Ziaul Haq in 1986. Before these laws were introduced, only one person was booked Under Section 295 in 38 years between 1947 and 1985 in the district jail of Lahore.

Over the next 24 years, 1,030 people were booked under blasphemy laws.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2010.