Lawyer group pushes for blasphemy convictions in Pakistan

A 700-strong coalition of pious lawyers in Pakistan are offering their expertise and services for free to anyone filing a blasphemy case, complicating Pakistan's tentative steps towards reforming the colonial-era law.

Engin Korkmaz

The Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Lawyers’ Forum is leveraging the legal expertise and influence of its members to crack down on blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The group, whose name translates in English as ‘The Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood’, is clear and unabashed in its aim to deliver convictions and subsequent death sentences for anyone found insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad. ‘Whoever does this [blasphemy], the punishment is only death. There is no alternative,’ says the group’s leader, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry.

As well as providing free legal representation to claimants, Khatm-e-Nubuwwat has also been known to pack out courthouses where blasphemy cases are due to be heard in order to pressure for convictions. At least 65 people including lawyers, judges and defendants have been murdered in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations since 1990, when the then little-used colonial-era law against blasphemy was upgraded from life imprisonment or death to ‘death and nothing else.’

While no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, the number of people sent to death row on blasphemy convictions is growing at an alarming rate. In the 15 years since Khatm-e-Nubuwwat was founded, the number of people awaiting executions in Punjab prisons has grown threefold to 336.

Pakistan faces a hard task reforming its blasphemy law, for which support is widespread and passions run high. Though Punjab passed laws last year requiring all blasphemy cases to be investigated by a senior police officer, many law enforcement officials and legal professionals avoid being drawn into blasphemy cases for fear of vigilante retribution.

In one high-profile case, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down in 2011 over his criticism of the blasphemy law. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was later represented in court by Mr Chaudhry himself. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has since ruled that criticism of the law does not in and of itself constitute blasphemy. However, Khatm-e-Nubuwwat and its supporters appear undeterred, warning that further reforms to the law may provoke violence.

‘If, God forbid, the law is finished,’ said Khatm-e-Nubuwwat secretary general Tahir Sultan Khokhar, ‘then obviously people have been given the right to decide with their own hands, to kill.’ Sources: Reuters; Lawyer Herald

Email your news and story ideas to: [email protected]