Daily Times Editorial 28 September 2019

Cricket carnival


Thank you, Sri Lankan team, for giving us a new lease of cricket life. The team is here in Pakistan on a three-match series of One Day Internationals to be played in Karachi and as many Twenty20 internationals in Lahore. All matches are going to be watched by capacity crowds in all stands of the National Stadium in Karachi and Gadhafi Stadium in Lahore. Cricket runs in the Pakistani nation’s blood; it is a great uniting factor for the country. Whenever there is an international cricket match, especially against India, every single ball leaves the Pakistani crowd breathless with either excitement or anxiety, depending on the scoreboard. A victory sends the whole country dancing on the streets; the other result sets in national mourning like situation. The same happens across the border. This is the beauty of sports rivalry.
Pakistan was writing glorious chapters in international cricket on home grounds and aboard until 2000 when terrorism, stemming from the war on terror in Afghanistan, struck Pakistani society. It changed the very fabric of our lives; the sports sector was one of the worst sufferers. The last nail in the cricket coffin was the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, after which international cricket stayed away from Pakistani grounds. A whole generation grew up watching national cricket heroes only playing on foreign grounds. The lull was briefly broken by the visit of the Zimbabwean team to Lahore for a three One Day International matches in October 2015. In 2017, some international players shrugged off the unwritten boycott of the Pakistani soil by the international community and played the Pakistan Super League final match. That was the watershed moment for Pakistani cricket as the international community started looking at our case with sympathy as well as thoughtful consideration. Impressed by Pakistan’s hunger for international games, the International Council of Cricket (ICC) went ahead with the World XI tour to Pakistan with a One Day International series in 2017.
The first match was called off due to rain. A successful conclusion of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka series is a matter of life and death for the security agencies and the civil administration. The ICC security team has, so far, shown satisfaction over security arrangements. The security is mainly banked on the Safe City Project of Lahore and heavy deployments of police personnel and a thorough sweeping of the surrounding areas of the stadiums in Lahore and Karachi. The authorities should be given full credit for their efforts. Pakistan and the international community should celebrate the game with sportsman spirit. Of course, this is the defeat of terrorism. *


Innocence after 18 years on death row


The Sup­reme Court’s decision to acquit a man falsely charged with blasphemy is more than a verdict about the innocence of an individual: it speaks volumes about our justice delivery system. Wajihul Hasan was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case in 2002 and he spent 18 years on death row until September 25, when a three-judge bench headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah exonerated him of the charges under Section 295-C (use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet [Peace Be Upon Him]) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) over the lack of concrete evidence against him. He was arrested when the complainant, a lawyer, accused him of writing letters full of objectionable content. The case was based on five letters written to the complainant in 1998. Later, another letter received by the complainant revealed the identity of the earlier writer – Wajihul Hasan. The police showed reluctance to go ahead but a Lahore High Court decree ordered the Lahore police to register the case involving the blasphemy charge. Wajih’s ‘confession’ of the charge has a twist too: He confessed before Mohammad Waseem, the manager of a steel/iron factory where he worked, of having committed the crime. The manager got Wajih’s ‘extrajudicial confession’ on a paper and handed him over to the police in 2001. The Supreme Court overturned the death penalty handed down by the sessions court and later upheld by the high court on the grounds that extrajudicial confessions and handwriting expert opinions were always considered weak evidence under the law.
The fact is that courts hardly go deep into blasphemy cases, passing on the burden of detailed examination to higher and superior courts. Many judges recuse themselves from hearing such cases because of the pressure of public sentiment. Pressure sets in once the blasphemy charge is made and the public turns into a mob, declaring its verdict even before cases are properly pursued. We have seen such an example in Ghotki recently where mobsters vandalised public property.
Our justice system can improve the situation by concluding such cases at the earliest. In November 2016, the Supreme Court acquitted Mazhar Farooq of murder after 20 years. Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer facing blasphemy charge, is awaiting a hearing for six years. Nine judges have recused themselves from taking it up. Aasia Bibi spent eight years on death row upon her conviction for blasphemy. This should end now. *

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