EDITORIAL: False accusations

KARACHI (Dawn/ANN) - False allegations of blasphemy must attract punitive measures. Blasphemy is not a charge to be levelled lightly.

Given the nature of some crimes, exoneration means little except for a vindication of the suspects’ stance and that of their family and friends. So it is in the case of the five bloggers who had vanished into thin air within a short span of time in January and were subsequently accused of having committed blasphemy.

The FIA on Friday informed the Islamabad High Court that investigators have found no evidence that they had indeed committed the crime. 

Meanwhile, however, their reputations have been dragged through the mud while their families have had to deal with both their disappearance and the death threats hurled against their loved ones. Four of the bloggers who finally surfaced have fled the country in fear of their lives.

The men had been critical of the security establishment’s policies on social media, and their abduction, never claimed by any organisation, sparked fears that state elements were using enforced disappearance to intimidate civil society activists into silence.

Matters took an even more ominous turn when a scurrilous campaign on social media accused the five of posting sacrilegious material online. That effectively ensured that any public sympathy for them would evaporate, and their supporters would have to back off lest they were accused of the same crime.

Blasphemy is perhaps the most emotive issue in this country; even hearsay is capable of provoking murder and mayhem. Not surprisingly therefore, the law can be abused to settle scores, or terrorise an entire community.

At the same time, even false allegations can usually be traced to a source; this time, however, the identity of the source remains as mysterious as the kidnappers of the five men. What can be said for certain is that the allegations have exacted a terrible cost, as they do always.

Moreover, the stigma of being accused of blasphemy endures; the question of innocence or guilt is of little consequence. Blasphemy accused have been murdered by vigilantes even following their acquittal, sometimes after they have served their sentence. That makes it all the more imperative that the state itself not add to the hysteria; a responsible approach would be to order that an investigation be swiftly carried out to determine the veracity of the allegations.

Moreover, as mentioned during the latest hearing of a petition against the bloggers, false allegations of blasphemy must attract punitive measures. Blasphemy is not a charge to be levelled lightly.

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