Now one can actually dream in peace in Pakistan without worrying about being guilty of blasphemy. The Lahore High Court has ruled that the country’s blasphemy laws “do not apply to dreams”!
The case pertains to a man from Sohrab Wala in Mianwali, Punjab, who had claimed that he could fly, and see Allah and several companions of the Prophet in his dreams. A case was filed against him by a former member of the Mianwali district council.
In response to a First Information Report (FIR) filed in 2021, Justice Tariq Sheikh declared that an individual “cannot be persecuted for what he sees in his dreams, or for sharing with others his thoughts, visions, or emotions he has during those times.”
He went on to note that there was no evidence to suggest that the petitioner had intended to offend or harm the religious sensibilities of the complainant or any other person.
The colonial-era blasphemy laws, which were expanded upon during General Zia-Ul Haq’s reign, state that it’s a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship. Maximum punishment ranges from one to 10 years, with or without a fine, and also carries a potential death sentence.
Critics of the law argue that many people have been wrongfully convicted and that it is used as a tool to target minorities.
In this case, too, the petitioner’s lawyer argued that the FIR was “politically motivated,” and that narrating such instances was not illegal under the blasphemy laws.
Possibly alluding to the fantastical nature of the claims, the HC judge also noted that many of blasphemy accused have mental health issues. He cited a journal article, which presents the two as closely connected in Pakistan’s justice system.
“In this harsh socio-political setting, there has been an emerging acknowledgment that individuals who are mentally ill are also being disproportionately targeted under these laws, irrespective of their ethnicity or religious background,” reads the 2014 paper.
The evidence for this is derived from different case reports in the newspaper media. Again, unfortunately, there has been no external systematic examination of such documentation. If mental illness was to be proven, the accused would be protected under the Pakistani Criminal Procedure Code, which says that a person of an “unsound mind” cannot be tried.
The open-ended and layered interpretations of blasphemy, even as a concept, has led to high-profile arrests and assassinations in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, who was then Governor of Punjab, was killed by his bodyguard, who believed it was his ‘religious duty’ to shoot Taseer, a staunch critic of the blasphemy laws.
Ayub Masih, an illiterate man, who quoted from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was found guilty of having insulted the prophet and was sentenced to death. In protest, Bishop John Joseph, who had been advocating against the blasphemy laws for decades, killed himself in 1998.
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, about 80 people in Pakistan are in prison for blasphemy.