The English press in Pakistan is usually on the metaphorical ‘same page’ when it comes to human rights or resisting bigotry, hate speech and violent extremism.
However, they appeared to take rather different positions with regards to an Anti-terrorism court (ATC)’s sentencing of 86 members of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to 55 years imprisonment each, for their involvement in violent protests against the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to acquit blasphemy accused Christian woman, Aasia Bibi in Nov 2018.
Top English daily, Dawn believed that the punishments were too harsh and were disproportionate to the crime the convicts may have committed. The newspaper finds it unlikely that all 86 convicts, or even a majority of them, attempted to commit murder, which is the most serious of the crimes listed in the charge sheet.
Dawn expressed apprehension that such blatant departure from fairness may create sympathy for an admittedly intolerant outfit. It also questioned the perpetuation of the anti-terrorism courts, which deny the accused bail, and usually extend the harshest of punishments.
It highlighted the fact that no action has been taken against the TLP leaders who had made incendiary speeches against the judiciary and state. “It almost seems as if the protesters are being punished for something else,” It added.
On the other hand, The Nation called the verdict exemplary and said no one in Pakistan should harbor any illusions of invincibility after this moment, regardless of where they stand on the political and religious spectrum.
“This exemplary verdict was extremely necessary and the court must be commended for recognizing the gravity of the offence and the need for setting a strong precedent. TLP needed to be cut down to size as the party has been responsible for some of the most disruptive and destructive attacks on the state in the past few years,” it said.
Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan has also called the sentence a gross injustice and announced to challenge it in the Lahore High Court. A report in Daily Ummat quoted TLP sources saying the sentence was so cruel that it has no parallel in the human history. The news report gave TLP’s version on the verdict in detail.
TLP sources told that one of the convicts is a 72 years old who is visually impaired and that all the suspects named in the FIR have been convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison by the court.