Blasphemy law in Pakistan

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The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1987 to 2014 over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy, mostly non-Muslim religious minorities. The vast majority of the accusations were lodged for desecration of the Quran.[1]

Over 50 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over,[2][3] and prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities) have been assassinated.[1] Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations.[4]

According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks and rioting.[5] Critics complain that Pakistan's blasphemy law "is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas,"[6] but calls for change in the blasphemy laws have been strongly resisted by Islamic parties - most prominently the Barelvi school of Islam.[7]

Pakistan's laws became particularly severe between 1980 and 1986, when a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, to "Islamicise" the laws and deny the Muslim character of the Ahmadi minority.[1] Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported.[2]

There has also been at least one case of an attack on a non-Muslim faith registered under the blasphemy laws.[8][9]

The constitution[edit]

By its constitution, the official name of Pakistan is the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan." More than 96% of Pakistan's 167 million citizens (2008) are Muslims.[10] Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. By the constitution (Article 2), Islam is the state religion. By the constitution's Article 31, it is the country's duty to foster the Islamic way of life. By Article 33, it is the country's duty to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among the citizens.[11] Under Article 10A of constitution it is also the state's duty to provide for the right of fair trail.[12]

The blasphemy laws[edit]

Several sections of Pakistan's Criminal Code comprise its blasphemy laws.[13]

Religious Offences and Punishments[edit]

PPC Description Penalty
§ 298 Uttering of any word or making any sound or making any gesture or placing of any object in the sight with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person. 1 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 298A Use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of holy personages. 1980 3 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 298B
(Ahmadi blasphemy law) Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places, by Ahmadis. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
§ 298C
(Ahmadi blasphemy law) Aka Ordinance XX: An Ahmadi, calling himself a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or "in any manner whatsoever" outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
§ 295 Injuring or defiling places of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class Up to 2 years imprisonment or fine, or both
§ 295A Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. 1927[14] Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 295B Defiling, etc., of Quran. 1982[15] Imprisonment for life
§ 295C Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad. 1986 Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990[16])

Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.[17]

Except for § 295-C, the provisions of § 295 require that an offence be a consequence of the accused's intent. (See below Sharia.)

§ 298 states:

Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Between 1986 and 2007, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with blasphemy offences.[18] Fifty percent of these were non-Muslims, who represent only 3% of the national population.[18] No judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan,[19][20] but 20 of those charged were murdered.[18][21]

The only law that may be useful in countering misuse of the Blasphemy law is PPC 153 A (a), whoever “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities” shall be fined and punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years.

On 12 January 2011, Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani once again said that there would be no amendments to the blasphemy law.[22]

Sharia[edit]

The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) is a religious body which rules on whether any particular law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. If a law is repugnant to Islam, "the President in the case of a law with respect to a matter in the Federal Legislative List or the Concurrent Legislative List, or the Governor in the case of a law with respect to a matter not enumerated in either of those Lists, shall take steps to amend the law so as to bring such law or provision into conformity with the Injunctions of Islam" (Constitution, Article 203D). In October 1990, the FSC ruled that § 295-C was repugnant to Islam by permitting life imprisonment as an alternative to a death sentence. The Court said "the penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death."[23][24] The FSC ruled that, if the President did not take action to amend the law before 30 April 1991, then § 295-C would stand amended by its ruling.

Promptly after the FSC's ruling in 1990, Bishop Dani L. Tasleem filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which has the power to overrule the FSC. In April 2009, the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court considered the appeal. Deputy Attorney-General Agha Tariq Mehmood, who represented the federal government, said that the Shariat Appellate Bench dismissed the appeal because the appellant did not pursue it. The appellant did not present any argument on the appeal because the appellant, according to reports, was no longer alive. Consequently, it appears to be the law in Pakistan that persons convicted under § 295-C must be sentenced to death with or without a fine.[25]

Vigilantism[edit]

Those who are accused of blasphemy may be subject to harassment, threats, and attacks. Police, lawyers, and judges may also be subject to harassment, threats, and attacks when blasphemy is an issue.[26][27] Those accused of blasphemy are subject to immediate incarceration, and most accused are denied bail to forestall mob violence.[24][26] It is common for those accused of blasphemy to be put in solitary confinement for their protection from other inmates and guards. Like those who have served a sentence for blasphemy, those who are acquitted of blasphemy usually go into hiding or leave Pakistan.[20][26][28]

United Nations[edit]

Pakistan's opposition to blasphemy has caused Pakistan to be active in the international arena in promoting global limitations on freedom of religion or belief and limitations on freedom of expression. In March 2009, Pakistan presented a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva which calls upon the world to formulate laws against the defamation of religion.[26] See blasphemy.

Internet censorship[edit]

In May 2010, Pakistan blocked access to Facebook because the website hosted a page called Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Pakistan lifted the block after Facebook prevented access to the page. In June 2010, Pakistan blocked seventeen websites for hosting content that the authorities considered offensive to Muslims. At the same time, Pakistan began to monitor the content of Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail, and Bing.[29][30]

Public Opinion[edit]

On March 19, 2014, Pakistani English-language newspaper, "The Nation", conducted a poll of its readers that showed 68% of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed. Details of the survey, such as its sampling methodology, are unknown.[31]

On the other hand, the International Crisis Group reports that

... the Islamic parties are most successful in galvanising street power when the goal is narrowly linked to obstructing reforms to discriminatory religious laws that often provoke sectarian violence and conflict and undermine the rule of law and constitutionalism.[32]

Selected cases[edit]

Arrests and death sentences issued for blasphemy laws in Pakistan go back to the late 1980s and early 90s. Despite the implementation of these laws, no one has yet been executed by the order of the courts or governments as to date, only imprisoned to await a verdict or killed at the hands of felons who were convinced that the suspects were guilty.[33][34]

Some of the widely reported cases were:

  • In January, 2014 Muhammad Asghar, a 70 year old British man from Edinburgh, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by a court in Rawalpindi. Mr. Asghar had initially been arrested in 2010 after sending letters in which he declared himself a prophet, and had lived in Pakistan for several years prior to his arrest and trial. Javed Gul, a government prosecutor, disclosed to Agence France Presse that, "Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge." Mr. Asghar's lawyers had argued during the trial that he should be granted leniency on account of a history of mental illness, but a medical panel later rejected this argument after reviewing his case.[35]
  • In September 2013, a Lahore based Woman Salma Fatima was arrested by Police after she distributed pamphlets declaring herself a Prophet.[36]
  • Arfa Iftikhar was forced into hiding after a furious mob stormed Farooqi Girls’ High School in the eastern city of Lahore over a piece of homework she set that allegedly contained derogatory references to the Muslim prophet Mohammad.[37]
  • Rimsha Masih (some reports use the name "Rifta" or "Riftah") is a Pakistani child who was arrested in Islamabad by Pakistani police in August 2012 and who could face the death penalty for blasphemy[38][39] for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran (or a book containing verses from the Quran) by burning.[40][41] She is a member of Pakistan's Christian minority.[38]
  • In July 2011 Muhammad Ajmal escaped the raid of a local religious group in Rawalpindi, who later announced that anti Islam and blasphemous material against Prophet of Islam was found from his apartment,Both printed and in his Laptop, which was banned by the Government of Pakistan on the internet, Ajmal disappeared since July 2011,
  • On 12 December 2011, a teacher Shahid Nadeem in the missionary school of Faisalabad accused by Qari Muhammad Afzal (who is a member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which is a banned organisation) registered FIR on 28 December 2011 in the local police station and said that culprit had deliberately torn the pages of Quran and later burn these pages.
  • On 2 March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs (a Roman Catholic member of the National Assembly), was killed by gunmen in Islamabad as he was travelling to work, a few weeks after he had vowed to defy death threats over his efforts to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws.[42]
  • In November 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging on a charge of blasphemy; the case that has yet to be upheld by the Lahore High Court has sparked international reactions. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his security guard for supporting Asia Bibi. Salman Taseer had visited Asia Bibi in Jail and had held a press conference with her.[43] He had told media that Asia Bibi will be released soon and the President of Pakistan will soon annul her death sentence. This triggered mass protests in Pakistan with many imams of local mosques claiming that Salman Taseer had defied Mohammed and should be sentenced to death for it. Taseer was later assassinated in early 2011.
  • In July 2010, a trader in Faisalabad complained that one of his employees had been handed a pamphlet which contained disrespectful remarks about Muhammad. According to the police, the pamphlet appeared to have the signatures and addresses of Pastor Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid, who were Christians. The brothers were shot and killed while being escorted by the police from a district court. Both had denied the charge of blasphemy.[44] Allama Ahmed Mian Hammadi, a Pakistani Muslim cleric, claimed that Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities, had himself committed blasphemy by branding the murdered Christian brothers as victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
  • On 9 July 2009, a FIR was registered against two teenager brothers, complainant falsely accusing them that they had spoke against Prophet Mohammad and this family had to left the country for their safety. On 30 July 2009, hundreds of members of Sipah-e-Sahaba and International Khatm-e-Nabuwat 'IKNM' the banned Muslim organisations, torched the Christian homes and killed Christians in the Punjabi city of Gojra Faisalabad and in the nearby village of Korian, District Faisalabad. The professed reason for the violence was that a Christian had defiled and spoke against Prophet Mohammad.Quran.[45][46][47]
  • On 22 January 2009, Hector Aleem a Christian Human Rights Activist in Pakistan was arrested on a blasphemy charge. According to the FIR, someone sent a blasphemous text message to the leader of Sunni Tehreek. Hector Aleem was arrested because the sender had once contacted him. Hector Aleem, the Chairman of Peace Worldwide, had been working for a church in Islamabad which was demolished by the CDA (Capital Development Authority) for having been built illegally. When Hector Aleem objected to the destruction of the church he was faced with several threats and lawsuits ranging from fraud to criminal charges. He fought all of them in the courts and proved his innocence. He also faced several assassination attempts. Hector Aleem was eventually arrested on the charge of blasphemy.
  • In February 2008, Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council reminded Pakistan's representative of the matter regarding Raja Fiaz, Muhammad Bilal, Nazar Zakir Hussain, Qazi Farooq, Muhammad Rafique, Muhammad Saddique and Ghulam Hussain. According to the allegations received, the men were members of the Mehdi Foundation International (MFI), a multi-faith institution utilising the name of Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi. They were arrested on 23 December 2005 in Wapda Town. The police confiscated posters on which Gohar Shahi was shown as "Imam Mehdi." On 13 July 2006, the Anti-Terrorism Court No. 1 in Lahore sentenced each accused to five years of imprisonment, inter alia, under § 295-A for having outraged others' religious feelings. Since 27 August 2006, the seven men have been detained in Sahiwal Jail, Punjab, where they were forced to parade naked, and were suspended from the ceiling and beaten. For this reason, they were constantly threatened and intimidated by prison staff as well as by other detainees.
  • Christians and Muslims in Pakistan condemned Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code as blasphemous. On 3 June 2006, Pakistan banned the film. Culture Minister Ghulam Jamal said: "Islam teaches us to respect all the prophets of God Almighty and degradation of any prophet is tantamount to defamation of the rest."[48]
  • On 11 August 2005, Judge Arshad Noor Khan of the Anti-Terrorist Court found Younus Shaikh guilty of defiling a copy of the Quran, outraging religious feelings, and propagating religious hatred among society.[49] Shaikh's conviction occurred because he wrote a book: Shaitan Maulvi (Satanic Cleric). The book said stoning to death (Rajam) as a punishment for adultery was not mentioned in the Quran. The book said also that four historical imams (religious leaders) were Jews.[50] The judge imposed upon Shaikh a fine of 100,000 rupees, and sentenced him to spend his life in jail.[51]
  • In October 2000, Pakistani authorities charged Dr. M. Younus Shaikh M.D., a physician, with blasphemy on account of remarks that students claimed he made during a lecture. The students alleged that, inter alia, Shaikh had said Muhammad's parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam existed. A judge ordered that Shaikh pay a fine of 100,000 rupees, and that he be hanged.[52] On 20 November 2003, a court retried the matter and acquitted Shaikh, who fled Pakistan for Switzerland soon thereafter.[53]
  • The police arrested Ayub Masih, a Pakistani Christian bricklayer for blasphemy on 14 October 1996 and jailed him for violation of § 295-C. Muhammad Akram, a Muslim neighbour to Masih, complained to the police that Masih had said Christianity was right, and Masih had recommended that Akram read Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.[23][54] The same day that Masih was arrested, Muslim villagers forced the entire Christian population of Masih's village (fourteen families) to leave the village. Masih's family had applied under a government program that gave housing plots to landless people. Local landlords resented Masih's application because the landlords had been able to oblige landless Christians to work in the fields in exchange for a place to live. Masih's application gave him a way out of his subservience to the landlords.[24] Upon Masih's arrest, the authorities gave Masih's plot to Akram.[23] Akram shot and injured Masih in the halls of the Session Court at Sahiwal on 6 November 1997. Four assailants attacked Masih in jail. The authorities took no action against Akram or against the other assailants.[23] On 20 April 1998, Judge Abdul Khan sentenced Masih to death and levied a fine of 100,000 rupees. Two judges of the Lahore High Court heard Masih's appeal on 24 July 2001. Shortly thereafter, the judges affirmed the judgment of the trial court.[23] On 16 August 2002, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set aside the judgment of the lower courts. The Supreme Court noted Akram's acquisition of Masih's property and concluded the case had been fabricated for personal gain. The court also noted other breaches in the law of due process.[55][56]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Hashim, Asad (17 May 2014). "Living in fear under Pakistan's blasphemy law". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 21 November 2014. In Pakistan, 17 people are on death row for blasphemy, and dozens more have been extrajudicially murdered. 
  4. ^ Blasphemy in Pakistan Bad-mouthing, economist.com.
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  7. ^ Blasphemy in Pakistan Bad-mouthing, economist.com.
  8. ^ Attack on Hindus prompts blasphemy case in Pakistan| AP| September 30, 2012| dawn.com
  9. ^ Rabia Ali (September 30, 2012). "Attackers of Hindu temple charged with blasphemy]". Express Tribune. In an extraordinary turn of events, Section 295-A was used to register a blasphemy case against Muslim men for damaging a Hindu temple during riots on Ishq-e-Rasool Day. 
  10. ^ "Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Pakistan". Press Release. United Nations. 20 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2009. 
  11. ^ http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/part1.html
  12. ^ fundamental rights under constitution of Pakistan
  13. ^ http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/legislation/1860/actXLVof1860.html
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  15. ^ "PAKISTAN BLASPHEMY LAWS ENDING THE ABUSE OF THE BLASPHEMY LAWS". pakistanblasphemylaw.com. Retrieved 13 December 2014. This law was amended further in 1982 as 295-B, defiling the Holy Qur’an, was added by Presidential Ordinance 1 
  16. ^ Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. NY: St.Martin's Press. p. 282. ... following the judicial amendment of the Federal Shariat Court in February 1990, [the Blasphemy Law] carried with it a mandatory death penalty. 
  17. ^ "Section 295C Pakistan Criminal Code". Report on the Situation of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. Persecution.org. 4 November 1994. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  18. ^ a b c "Christians often victims under Pakistan's blasphemy law". The Evangelization Station. FIDES/CWNews. 13 May 2005. Retrieved 22 June 2009. 
  19. ^ "Swearing by reforms: Time to put Pakistan's blasphemy laws on trial". HRF/52/02. South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre. 15 February 2002. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
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  22. ^ Mughal, Aftab Alexander (12 January 2011). [http://continentalnews.net/persecuted-christians/prime-minister-of-pakistan-rejects-pope%E2%80%99s-call-on-islamic-blasphemy- laws-4684.html "Prime Minister of Pakistan rejects Pope's call on Islamic blasphemy laws"]. Continental News. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
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  24. ^ a b c Ahmed, Akbar S. (19 May 2002). "Pakistan's Blasphemy Law: Words Fail Me". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
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  27. ^ United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (8 October 2008). "Asma Jahangir". United Nations. Retrieved 27 June 2009. 
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  34. ^ http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304655304579550030970480094
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  39. ^ Rick Dewsbery (20 August 2012). "'Down's syndrome girl', 11, faces death penalty for desecrating Koran in Pakistan". Daily Mail. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
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  42. ^ "Pakistan minorities minister 'shot dead in Islamabad'". BBC. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2011. 
  43. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7L18cmAf6k
  44. ^ "Pakistan city tense after 'blaspheming' Christians shot". BBC. 20 July 2010. Retrieved 21 July 2010. 
  45. ^ The Associated Press (1 August 2009). "6 Pakistani Christians die in riots with Muslims". Toronto Star. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
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  48. ^ "Pakistan bans Da Vinci Code film". BBC News / South Asia. 4 June 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2006. 
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  50. ^ "Document – Pakistan: Fear for safety/ Prisoner of Conscience (POC), Mohammed Younus Shaikh". Amnesty International. 19 August 2005. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
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  52. ^ McCarthy, Rory (20 August 2001). "Blasphemy doctor faces death". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 19 June 2009. 
  53. ^ "Mukto-mona special News: Younus Shaikh Free!". Mukto-mona. 23 January 2004. Retrieved 19 June 2009. 
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  55. ^ "Blasphemy Prisoner Acquitted After Six Years in Prison". International Christian Concern. 15 August 2002. Retrieved 26 June 2009. [dead link]
  56. ^ Olsen, Ted (8 August 2002). "Pakistan frees Christian prisoner as country mourns attacks". Christianity Today Magazine. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]