FaithWorld

Guestview: The infliction of the blasphemy law in Pakistan

asia bibi 1 (Photo: Protesters demand release of Asia Bibi, in Lahore November 21, 2010/Mohsin Raza)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone.  Naeem Shakir is a Lahore-based human rights activist and advocate of the Pakistan Supreme Court.

By Naeem Shakir

The religious minorities in Pakistan are once again awe-struck over the death sentence passed against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, for committing blasphemy. The fear and scare such tragic events create and spread amongst the minorities goes down their spine and dampens their spirits as citizens of Pakistan. They wonder for how long they would be persecuted for having a faith different from the Muslim majority. Each time it has been found that the blasphemy law was used either for religious persecution or for settling personal scores or grabbing land.

In Asia Bibi’s case, the complainant was a local clergyman Qari Mohammad Salam. He was neither present at the place of occurrence nor personally heard the blasphemous words allegedly uttered by Asia Bibi. Muslim women who worked with Asia Bibi in the falsa fruit fields of a local landlord informed him on June 19, 2009 that on June 14, Asia uttered blasphemous remarks about the Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran. The two sisters admitted in evidence that a quarrel took place regarding drinking water that Asia brought, which was declared as ‘unclean’ and they refused to drink it. The complainant stated that she confessed her guilt before a religiously charged mob.

bibiThe evidence is full of contradictions. In her statement before the court, Asia Bibi said, “The two female witnesses conspired with Qari Salam and got a false, fabricated and fictitious case registered against her.” She offered to take an “oath on the Bible that she had never passed such derogatory and shameful remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and Holy Quran.” She further stated, “I have great respect and honour for the Holy Prophet as well as Holy Quran.” Despite her forceful denial, she was convicted unjustly. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi’s brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)

In this highly sensitive Islamic society that is under the immense pressure of Talibanisation and militarised as well, who amongst the minorities would dare utter words that would attract charges under the blasphemy law? The zero level of socio-religious tolerance has arrested the process of polemics for many decades now in our society. Academic discussions are undertaken very cautiously even by Muslim scholars and intellectuals. However, the Muslim clerics freely continue blaspheming the symbols and personalities of other religions from the pulpit but no law comes into motion.

Hardline Pakistan imam offers reward to kill Christian woman

qureshiA hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam. The sentence against Asia Bibi has renewed debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which critics say is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores. Non-Muslim minorities account roughly 4 percent of Pakistan’s about 170 million population. (Photo: Maulana Yousef Qureshi in Peshawar, February 17, 2006/str)

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, the imam of a major mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, offered a $5,800 (3,700 pounds) reward and warned the government against any move to abolish or change the blasphemy law. “We will strongly resist any attempt to repeal laws which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Mohammad,” Qureshi told a rally of hardline Islamists.

“Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees in reward from Masjid Mohabat Khan,” he said referring to his mosque. Qureshi, a cleric who has been leading the congregation at the 17th century Mohabat Khan mosque for decades, later told Reuters he was determined to see her killed. “We expect her to be hanged and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”

Pakistan Pres. Zardari barred from pardoning Christian woman

bibi 1 (Photo: Pprotesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has sparked criticism over the country’s blasphemy law. Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, requested a pardon from the president after a lower court sentenced her to death on Nov 8 in a case stemming from a village dispute.

The Lahore High Court barred Zardari on Monday from pardoning Bibi in a petition filed by Shahid Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen. Iqbal’s lawyer Allah Bux Laghari told Reuters a pardon was illegal as the court was already hearing an appeal against her sentence.

“We believe it is the court’s duty to evaluate the evidence against her, not individuals, and if she is found innocent, she should be freed,” he said.