By Asad Gokal
A spectre of faith-based persecution unfolds as the Shia community in Pakistan mourns the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The banned outfits have launched anti-Shia propaganda which can foreseeably lead to a violent wave of sectarianism in Pakistan. Blasphemy charges are used as tools to corner the Shia community.
During Muharram, when the Shia community around the world is busy holding gatherings to commemorate the martyrdom and suffering of Prophet Muhammad’s family, the Shias of Pakistan are afraid of losing lives as they step out of their homes.
A renewed wave of sectarian violence in the country took a toll when a private television channel broadcasted the recitation of Ziarat-e-Ashura, a prayer that condemns the killers of Imam Hussain, from the annual Ashura procession in Karachi. The extremist factors were quick to react and started building pressure on the government which resulted in the State booking the reciter.
Several complaints were registered against the already persecuted Shia community across the country. Not only were these blasphemy charges and complaints accepted by the police officials and translated into FIRs against the Shias but sections from the Anti-terrorism Act were also added to them. The Shia reciters, orators as well as individuals who dared profess their faith openly were booked. An FIR was even registered against an person who condemned the killer of Imam Hussain on social media.
In Kamoke, Punjab, an FIR was registered against a family under the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960 and the Punjab Control of Loudspeakers Ordinance, 1965 for holding a Majlis (gathering) at their house without obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) by the State. Nominees of the FIR include a three-year-old Fazal Abbas, accused of organizing the Majlis. Upon reaching the court to obtain the pre-arrest bail of the kid, the judge attested that a namesake relative of the kid was one of the nominees and not the kid himself.
In District Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a 17-year old minor was booked for holding a blasphemous conversation against a holy personality on WhatsApp. The accused was taken to the police station where the local clerics of the area were present too who forced the guy to call Shias infidels and curse Shia leaders or scholars, in the presence of SHO and DSP, Mansehra. DPO Mansehra, Mr. Sadiq Baloch, claimed that the situation was professionally handled and sentiments of none of the sects were hurt. Not only the clarification is senseless and absurd but the dangerous precedent set of cursing the other sect and calling them infidels in the presence of the LEAs (Law Enforcement Agencies) can lead to disastrous consequences.
A similar incident happened in Khairpur, Sindh where a Shia guy, Syed Naveed Shah was accused of sharing a Facebook post containing blasphemous remarks. With the flag of JUI in the background, local clerics forced him to read out an apology letter in which they added honorifics to a few holy personalities that Shia members do not believe in.
In another district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Havelian, the police department filed an FIR against the licensed organizer of the 11th Muharram procession, after ASWJ leaders registered a complaint.The very next day, a rally was taken out by banned group ASWJ, former Sipah Sahaba, in which hate slogans were raised against Shias. When the local Shias went to the police station to file a complaint against the hate-based rally, the DPO threatened to put them up in lockups and no complaint was filed against the rally.
While graffiti of “Shia Infidels” goes unnoticed in this country, Punjab Police booked a resident of Allahabad, a small town in Punjab, for having slogans proclaiming his religious beliefs chalked on the outer walls of his own house reading “Dum Dum Ali Ali, Har Dum Ali Ali”.
Following the blind surge of blasphemy cases, dozens of Shia orators were arrested and detained by the LEAs all across the country.
Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid hurt the Shia sentiments when he went on to praise the killer of Imam Hussain, Yazid in his sermon and added the title of R.A. which stands for ‘peace be upon him’ with his name.
ASWJ, the initiator of the recent hate campaign, took out rallies all across the country raising slogans of “Shia Infidels” demanding permanent restrictions on the annual Shia processions. The wall chalking of “Shia Kafirs” started reappearing in various parts of Karachi while the Pakistani twitter observed the top trend of “Kafir Kafir Shia Kafir” for days at length.
In the Ulema Convention, Karachi, Maulana Manzoor Mengal declared Shias as enemies and traitors of Pakistan and claimed that Shias had no role in the creation of Pakistan. He went on to further insult the sect by saying that the four Urdu alphabets joining up to form the word ‘Shia’ stand for Shaitan (Devil), Yahudi (Jewish), Isayi (Christianity), and Hindu.
The hate speeches done by the extremist clerics resulted in the resumption of faith-based killings in the country. On 6th September, Qaiser Abbas, a local Shia of Kohat was gunned down at his shop in a suspected sectarian attack.
Ironically, Section 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code orders a punishment to anyone who deliberately wounds the religious feeling of any person, and it applies to the extremists for chanting hate-based slogans against Shias but they are never booked. Instead, it has become a tool to further persecute the sect by booking them for their speeches.
It seems ridiculous that a country achieved on the grounds of providing religious freedom to the minority Muslims of the subcontinent, back in 1947, is experiencing systematic and state-led persecution of a minority sect. Booking members of a community under blasphemy and anti-terrorism charges is a direct violation of Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan that allows every citizen to profess, practice and propagate their religion.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed grave concerns over the surge of blasphemy cases against Shias and mentioned that the police should refrain from registering blasphemy cases knowing it has become a tool to victimize the persecuted sect.