Smear Campaign Using Blasphemy to Pressurize Pakistan’s Chief Justice

‘YouTuber and former anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan has reportedly been arrested again.’

Smear Campaign Using Blasphemy to Pressurize Pakistan’s Chief Justice

YouTuber and former broadcast journalist Imran Riaz Khan, who was previously subjected to enforced disappearance in 2023, has reportedly been arrested, according to his brother’s social media post late night on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) summoned YouTuber Muhammad Imran Riaz Khan for “unleashing a highly obnoxious and intimidating campaign” targeting the “highest judiciary of the state of Pakistan” on social platform X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, including former minister Ali Muhammad Khan, pro-PTI youtubers Imran Riaz and Siddique Jan, and JUI-F’s Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rehman, have all contributed to a digital campaign against Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa for granting bail to an Ahmadi man behind bars for over a year on charges of defiling the Holy Scripture and posing as Muslim despite being Ahmadi. The judgement cites references from the Holy Quran and is based on constitutional protections for religious minorities.

The Supreme Court’s Judgment

As per its judgment on February 6, 2024, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail to a man accused of distributing a proscribed book titled Tafseer-e-Sagheer.

According to the verdict issued by a two-member bench comprising CJP Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Musarrat Hilali, “disseminating a proscribed book was made an offense in the year 2021, whereas the FIR alleged that the petitioner had done this in 2019.”

Article 12(1) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan stipulates that a person cannot be charged for something that was not an offense when it was done, the judgment read.

“Therefore, since in the year 2019, the distribution or dissemination of a proscribed book was not an offense, the petitioner could not have been charged for it,” the verdict said.

“As regards the offenses under sections 298-C and 295-B of the PPC for which the petitioner is also charged, his learned counsel submits that neither the FIR nor the police report (challan), submitted after investigation by the police, allege that the petitioner had done any of the acts mentioned therein to constitute these offenses,” it stated.

“The learned counsel representing the complainant read out the FIR, but nothing is stated therein to constitute the offenses under sections 298-C and 295-B of the PPC. The challan is also silent in this regard. The charge framed on June 24, 2023, by the Additional Sessions Judge, Lalian, to the extent of charging the petitioner for the offences under sections 298-C and 295-B of the PPC did not accord with the provisions of Chapter XIX of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which pertain to charge.”

“The instant case is also not one wherein the charge could be altered or where the petitioner could have been convicted of a lesser offense to those under sections 298-C and 295-B of the PPC. Therefore, the offenses under sections 298-C and 295-B of the PPC are removed from the charge framed against the petitioner,” the verdict read.

“If only the functionaries of the state had heeded the Holy Quran, considered the Constitution, and examined the law, then the FIR would not have been registered in respect of the abovementioned offenses. We regretfully note that in dealing with cases pertaining to offenses against religion, facts give way to emotions, as seems to have happened in this case too, and individual complainants supplant the state, even though the very nature of these offenses is not against an individual or with regard to personal property,” it stated.

Supreme Court’s Statement

In a press release issued on January 22, 2024, the Supreme Court of Pakistan said that electronic, print, and social media are reporting one of the judgments announced by the apex court in a wrong manner, due to which uncertainties and confusion are being disseminated among the masses by giving the impression that the Supreme Court has deviated from the definition of “Muslim” and ordered to declare all articles of the Pakistan Penal Code related to the “offense against religion” null and void.

The top court clarified that there is no reality in the fake news being circulated on mainstream and social media.“As per the allegations stated in the FIR, Section 5 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932, applied to the accused instead of blasphemy laws,” the apex court emphasized.

The petitioner was arrested on January 7, 2023, and has remained incarcerated for thirteen months, which is more than double the permissible punishment under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932.

The Supreme Court granted bail to the accused while keeping in view the constitution of Pakistan, Islamic orders, and parameters of justice. The top court stated that a malicious campaign against the judiciary is not only a violation of Article 19 but can also cause harm to the pillar of the state from which the public seeks justice.

Role Of Political Parties In Playing Religious Card

This is not the first time that a political party is playing religious card to settle its personal scores. It has been witnessed in the past that other political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, were involved in misusing blasphemy allegations for personal gain.

In October 2017, PML-N leader retired Captain Muhammad Safdar launched into a virulent tirade against Pakistan's persecuted Ahmadi community while speaking in the National Assembly. He accused the faith group of acting against the country's interests and called for action against its members.

Elections Reforms Amendment Bill 2017

It is pertinent to mention here that in 2017, the PML-N government passed the Elections Reforms Amendment Bill 2017, as per which the wording of Form-A, which is submitted at the time of election by candidates, had been changed so that it had been turned into a declaration form instead of an affidavit, which puts a candidate under oath.

Through the Elections Act 2017, the words in Form-A “I solemnly swear” had been replaced with “I believe” in a clause relating to a candidate's belief in the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and it had been made not applicable to non-Muslim candidates.

That move was also labeled as a step to support the Ahmadi community, and hues and cries were made by political and religious parties, including Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). After which, the Elections Act 2017 was amended to restore a Khatm-e-Nabuwat oath.

Dire Consequences

On January 4, 2001, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards in Islamabad. Taseer was shot when getting into his car in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. The guard had told police that he killed Taseer because of the governor's opposition to blasphemy law. Many were angered by his defense of a Christian woman, Aasiya Bibi, sentenced to death.