Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

January 6, 2011

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 Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people. While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right.

 On Tuesday, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.

Here some facts about the blasphemy law and its fallout.

* The law has its roots in 19th century colonial legislation to protect places of worship, but it was during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s that it acquired teeth as part of a drive to Islamize the state.

 * Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse. The law stipulates that “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

* Christians who make up 4 percent of Pakistan’s population have been especially concerned about the law saying it offers them no protection. Convictions hinge on witness testimony and often these are linked to personal vendettas, they say.

 * Blasphemy convictions are common in Pakistan, although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal, but angry mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy.

 * In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, Punjab. At least seven Christians were burned to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran. Police had already registered a case under Section 295C against three Christians for blasphemy. Last July, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad. Hence a conviction or even an accusation under this law is often a death sentence, activists say.

 * Some attempts have been made in the past to either repeal the law or try and amend the provisions to prevent their misuse, but each time the government has faced the wrath of religious conservatives. The current administration has ruled out scrapping the law altogether, saying such a move would hand a weapon to religious extremists and fuel militancy at a time when it is struggling to tackle it.

* Islamist parties have warned against any attempt to change the law, seeing it as a dilution of the country’s Islamist character under foreign pressure. On December 31, thousands of supporters led a nationwide strike warning any attempt to change the law would only be “over their dead bodies.”

* Earlier in December, a pro-Taliban Muslim cleric offered a $5,800 reward to anyone who killed the Christian woman, Bibi, in prison, angered by attempts, by among others governor Taseer, to save her from the gallows.

(A candlelight vigil for the slain governor of Punjab. Reuters/Athar Hussain)

Comments

Isn’t it sad that we who are the followers of our great Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)do not know what tolerance is. Our Prophet (PBUH) even forgave the woman who used to throw trash on his way whenever our Prophet (PBUH) walked down that street. In fact when he did not see her for three days he went looking for her to find out what had happened and on finding that she was ill he took care of her. I feel sorry for the minority living in Pakistan – how scared they must feel – anybody can accuse them of any blasphemy with no proof and the whole country is out to kill! What kind of people have we become? Salman Taseer was killed just for giving his opinion and the Pakistanis are full of joy and celebrating this with showering the murderer with flowers ! Allah Ho Akbar !

Posted by Suraiya | Report as abusive
 

This is not the religion nor can it be attributed to reason, but the over stretch of ‘TOLERANCE’ which the poor people in Pakistan have been showing suince the take over the Govt. by the current military/civilian set up supported by the American administration. Have we not witnessed the displacement of people from swat, the military intrusion into the sacred land of Pashtoons and attacks with govt. connivance of the american drones on civilian targets, a reign of terror on the ordinary people who are no longer in a position to keep and practice their faith without being molested by their own Govt. What we are witnessing is a revolution from the base, the simple workers, the proleteriats who can hardly earn their livelihood and yet being confronted with labels of Radicals, Extremists, Islamists, Terrorists and what have you. Mr Taseer had no business to talk in public about the law of blasphemy or its abuse in public while loafing about in Islamabad bazaars. The security man was trained to be on the side of the law without questioning it and Mr Taseer should have shut his mouth and uphold the law that he swore to until such time that the law is withdrawn, amended or at least not applicable to non-muslims in the form we have witnessed. THOUGH SHALL NOT KILL IS THE COMMANDMENT OF GOD AND THIS IS STATED IN QURAAN!!! How come therefore that the laws in a muslim country like Pakistan do not reflect this. In christian Europe this gas been achieved. No capital punishment!!
Mr Taseer, the business man turned politician was also the member of the ruling so called peoples party which is in power for some time now. How come that there is no moritorium on the death penalties and in this case how come the law was not amended earlier?
Pakistan is in the grip of american Paranoi against muslims and has been given dozens of labels to suppress the citizens of the land without even a trial. They are all being classified as extremists, radicals, fundamentalists, terrorists, Pakistan talibans etc etc and on top of that there are those who are talking about liberalism, secularism and use of the western vocabulary without realising that most western constitutios are based on christian values and christian religion, not based on aetheism or communism. The secular Govts are in place so that to avoid Govts interfearance in the religion of its citizens, which is personal and handled by the religious institutions without any coersionor force.

The next weeks and months should tell the world if this crime was committed by the individual or the proloteriat revolution is in the offing. Islam is a religion of peace and a way of life, but this does not mean that all muslims in the world have achieved the ultimate what is presribed and practiced by Prophet Mohammad(PBUH).

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

I grew up in a muslim home. I have always believed that Islam was a religion of peace but reality has shown exactly the opposite. The MAJORITY OF THE MOST OBNOXIOUS AND INHUMANE CRIMES that have ever been committed these days have been perpetrated in the name of Islam and to crown it all by the so-called “faithful muslims.” It is unfortunate to see how people are prompt to protect their Allah and prophet instead of leaving their Allah to defend them. If all Allah cares about is to kill and destroy people, I wonder whether it is any wise for people to aspire to attain Allah’s Kingdom where nothing but TERROR AND KILLINGS are the hallmark of the worship.

Posted by MrDesillusioned | Report as abusive
 

@Mr disillusioned

We all get disillusioned some times and then meditate and thank God that we are alive and healthy. This is God’s world and let God take care of it and believe you me God does.
Though shall not kill and though shall not judge for though shall be judged, are the commandments which come to my mind from the scriptures. How many muslims have been slain by George W and for wrong reasons equals more than a generation. There is one who had the courage to throw a pair of shoe at him and there are others who are out to revenge and there are others who are resisting where the slaying of muslims has not yet stopped.

All this has nothing to do with religion or Islam or christianity.

Hide yourself in the Bushes or travel to the world that you have not seen or just simply meditate. We all need a break in one way or the other. Do not make an attempt to solve the world problems, at least we have peace in Europe for the last sixty years, because we want to live in peace, America must make peace with itself and the world would look much healthier and peaceful!!

Have a nice day.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

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