Blasphemy defendants left defenceless

Staff Report

LAHORE: Lawyers representing accused in blasphemy cases are under constant danger from potentially militant elements, who consider defending a blasphemy accused as un-Islamic and unethical, said various lawyers.

Free Legal Assistance and Settlement (FLAS) Chairman Sheikh Anis A Saadi advocate said that he voluntarily defended people accused of blasphemy before courts throughout the province. He said that a lawyer representing an accused in such a case was usually considered an abettor and because of that, he was subjected to a social stigma.

He also said that normally, in such a case, the accused was considered guilty even before the court gave judgment against him. He said that he, along with three colleagues, had been defending blasphemy cases since 2003 and they had not only faced criticism from their friends, but had also received constant threats from different religious sects. He claimed that he had been attacked and his office had been set on fire, adding that he had filed two first information reports for attacks on him by unidentified bearded men. He also showed written threats that were sent to him and his family from a ‘jihadi’ group.

Another lawyer, Aslam Pervaiz advocate, said that from the very start of his legal practice, he had been defending people accused of blasphemy. He said that he had received death threats and been assaulted for doing so, adding that such proceedings were regularly attended by religious men, who constantly attempted to threaten the defendant’s lawyer. He also said that most Muslim lawyers avoided such cases based on their own beliefs.

Does not matter: Asif Ali Gujjar advocate said that he would not defend a blasphemer, as his religion did not allow him to do so. He said that it did not matter if the accused committed the offence or not, as the allegations are never raised without reason. He also said that his decision was not the result of pressure from society, as his conscience did not allow him to defend a person accused of blasphemy.

Sensitive: A blasphemy accused, requesting anonymity, said that when he was blamed for committing blasphemy, it seemed as though the entire society was hostile to him and people treated him like a leper. He said that people were overly sensitive about their religion and no one allowed the accused any chance to prove his innocence. He also said that when he was arrested, his family had been unable to engage a lawyer to defend him but after some time, lawyers from Lahore had contacted his family and offered to represent him.

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