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Blasphemy in Pakistan

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The Pakistan Penal Code outlaws blasphemy (Urdu: قانون ناموس رسالت) against any recognized religion, with punishments ranging from a fine to the death penalty. According to various human rights organizations, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal rivalries, frequently against other Muslims, rather than to safeguard religious sensibilities.

From 1967 to 2014, over 1,300 people were accused of blasphemy, with Muslims constituting most of those accused.[1][2] Between 1987 and February 2021, at least 1,855 individuals were charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.[3]

Although death sentences for blasphemy have been issued on numerous occasions, no one has yet been executed by the order of the courts or government of Pakistan.[4][5] However, those accused of blasphemy are frequently targeted and killed by angry mobs before any trial can begin.[6]

At least 89 Pakistanis were extrajudicially killed over blasphemy accusations from 1947 to 2021.[7][8][9] Among the victims of such killings have been high profile Pakistanis such as Punjab Governor Salman Taseer,[10] Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti,[11][12] and high court justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who was slain in his chambers.[13]

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, as of early 2021, around 80 people are known to be incarcerated in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, with half of those facing life in prison or the death penalty.[14]

Besides non-Muslim and Ahmadiyya minorities, Pakistan's minority Shias too are accused of blasphemy for their beliefs. Since 2001, more than 2,600 Shia Muslims have been killed in violent attacks in Pakistan. Many are buried in the Wadi-e-Hussain Cemetery, Karachi.[15]



Many people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their trials were over,[16][17] and renowned figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated.[1] Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered following blasphemy accusations.[18] According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly exposes the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks, and rioting.[19] (In October 1997, for example, a high court justice in Lahore was murdered in his chambers for acquitting two Christians accused of blasphemy, but the killer was "acquitted due to lack of witness testimony".)[20][13]

Critics complain that those accused of blaspheming have seldom actually said or done anything blasphemous; (one lawyer who defends those accused of blasphemy, Anneqa Maria, states that: “In my entire career of 14 years as a criminal lawyer, none of the blasphemy victims I represented have actually committed blasphemy");[21] Asad Hashim writes that from 2010 to 2020,

the “offences” committed by those accused of blasphemy have been as absurd as throwing a business card into the rubbish (the man’s name was Muhammad), a rural water dispute, spelling errors, the naming of a child, the design of a place of worship, burning a (non-religious) talisman or sharing a picture on Facebook.[22]

They also complain that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are "overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas",[23] but calls for change in blasphemy laws have been strongly resisted by Islamic parties - most prominently the Barelvi school of Islam.[18] Many atheists in Pakistan have been lynched and imprisoned over unsubstantiated allegations of blasphemy. The state began a rigorous crackdown on atheism starting in 2017, causing conditions to deteriorate significantly. Secular bloggers started facing kidnappings, and the government-initiated advertising campaigns encouraging citizens to identify potential blasphemers in their midst. Further exacerbating the situation, the nation's highest judicial authorities classified such individuals as terrorists.[24]

Cases under the blasphemy law have also been registered against Muslims who have harassed non-Muslims.[25][26][27]

In 2020, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) in a report entitled, Guilty until proven innocent: The sacrilegious nature of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, recommended wide-ranging changes to Pakistan's laws and legal systems.[28]

According to the International Crisis Group, while in previous decades it was "Islamist hardliners" who lodged blasphemy charges, by around 2022 an environment had developed where "judges, police and private citizens" were "likely to see rewards rather than repercussions for making blasphemy accusations" and it was state court judges, not Islamists, who "increasingly raising the issue".[20]



By its constitution, the official name of Pakistan is the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" as of 1956. More than 96% of Pakistan's 220 million citizens (2022) are Muslims.[29] Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. According to 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 its citizens.[30] Under Article 10A of the constitution, it is also the state's duty to provide for the right of fair trial.[31]

Religion-related offences on the territory of modern Pakistan were first codified by the British Raj in 1860, and were expanded in 1927.[32] Pakistan inherited that legislation when it gained independence after the partition of India in 1947.[32] Several sections of Pakistan's Penal Code comprise its blasphemy laws.[33]

Development of Pakistani blasphemy laws


During the 1920s, after the assassination of a publisher of a book named Rangila Rasul, published in Lahore, Punjab, the administration of the British Raj enacted Hate Speech Law Section 295(A),[34] in 1927, under pressure from the Muslim community, as a part of the Criminal Law Amendment Act XXV. This made it a criminal offence to insult the founders or leaders of any religious community.[35][36] After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, many anti blasphemy laws and clauses were introduced in Pakistan's Penal Code.[33]

Between 1980 and 1986, the military government of General Zia-ul Haq modified the existing blasphemy laws (which had been inherited from the colonial-era Indian Penal Code) to make them more severe, with a number of clauses being added by the government in order to "Islamicise" the laws and deny the Muslim character of the Ahmadi minority.[1] Before 1986, only 14 cases of blasphemy were reported.[16] Parliament through the Second Amendment to the Constitution on 7 September 1974, under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims.[37] In 1986, it was supplemented by a new blasphemy provision also applied to Ahmadi Muslims (See Persecution of Ahmadis).[38][39] Between 1987 and 2017 at least 1,500 people were charged with blasphemy and at least 75 people involved in accusations of blasphemy were killed in Pakistan according to the Center for Social Justice.[40] According to another source, between 2011 and 2015, "the latest period for which consolidated data is available" as of 2020, there were "more than 1,296 blasphemy cases filed" in Pakistan.[22]

In January 2023, Pakistan's National Assembly passed a vote to tighten the country's blasphemy laws, a move that incited concern among minority groups. These communities feared the enhanced laws could lead to more human rights violations and further persecution of religious minorities. On January 17, the Assembly unanimously approved the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill. This legislation increased the penalty for disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed’s companions, wives, and family members from three years of imprisonment to 10 years, in addition to a fine of 1 million Pakistani rupees, equivalent to roughly GBP £3,500.[41] Blasphemy is a capital offence in Pakistan. Muslims’ stances on blasphemy are not just about religion, though. They are influenced by international affairs.[clarification needed] Across the globe, Muslim minorities — including the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, Chechens of Russia, Rohingya of Myanmar and Uyghurs of China — have experienced persecution.[42]

Religious offences and punishments

Pakistan Penal Code sections Types and description of offences Punishment
§ 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: f 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[43] Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 295B Defiling, etc., of Quran. 1982[44] Imprisonment for life
§ 295C Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad or other Prophet(s). 1986 Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990[45])

Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.[46]

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

§ 298 states:

Anyone who, with the purposeful intent to offend the religious sentiments of another individual, either speaks a word or makes a noise within earshot of that person, or performs a gesture or displays an object within their line of sight, is liable to be penalized. The punishment may include imprisonment of any type for a period that could last up to one year, a monetary fine, or both.

Between 1986 and 2007, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with blasphemy offences.[47] with one source saying 50% of these were non-Muslims, who represent only 3% of the national population.[47] No judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan,[48][49] but 20 of those charged were murdered.[47][50]

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.[51]



The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) is a religious body that 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".[52][53] 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, according to reports, he 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.[54]



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.[55][56] Those accused of blasphemy are subject to immediate incarceration, and most accused are denied bail to forestall mob violence.[53][55] 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.[49][55][57] Pakistan's blasphemy laws are known to be widely abused by those seeking personal gain from those accused, as evidenced by the Imran Ghafur Masih case study. Masih was accused and sentenced to life in prison under Section 295B of the blasphemy laws after his neighbor manipulated and tricked him into unknowingly throwing away a copy of the Quran, because the neighbor wanted to gain Masih's storefront real estate.[58]

United Nations


Pakistan's support of blasphemy regulation has caused it 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 that called upon the world to formulate laws against the defamation of religion.[55] See blasphemy.

Internet censorship


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 and Bing.[59][60]

In January 2021, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) convicted and sentenced three men to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media. A fourth accused in the same case, one Anwaar Ahmed, professor of Urdu language, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs 100,000. He had been accused of disseminating controversial, blasphemous views during a lecture at the Islamabad Model College.[14] During the trial, the court did not admit witnesses for the defense because they were blood relatives of the accused.[14]

Public opinion

Anti-Pakistani blasphemy law protest in Bradford, England (2014)

On 19 March 2014, The Nation polled its readers and later reported that 68% of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed.[61] 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.[62]

Pakistani human rights activists say that charges of blasphemy are being used to harass minorities and settle personal conflicts.[63] Harshil Mehta, South Asia's political observer, has commented that it is "an urgent need to replace these laws" in his article in Outlook.[64] If the Islamic Republic, he wrote, "wants to prove itself as a haven for religious freedom, then it must ban these regressive laws".[64]

See also





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  2. ^ Editorial (27 November 2021). "Living in fear". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Pakistan Events of 2022". Human Rights Watch. 12 January 2023. Retrieved 24 July 2023.
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  5. ^ Baloch, Shah Meer; Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (19 January 2022). "Woman sentenced to death in Pakistan over 'blasphemous' WhatsApp activity". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2023.
  6. ^ Symington, Annabel (9 May 2014). "Increasing Violence in Pakistan Surrounding Blasphemy Cases Deters Opposition". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 24 April 2017 – via www.wsj.com.
  7. ^ "89 citizens killed over blasphemy allegations since 1947: report [by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS)]". Dawn. 26 January 2022. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  8. ^ Haq, Farhat (10 May 2019). Sharia and the State in Pakistan: Blasphemy Politics. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-429-61999-1.
  9. ^ Matt Hoffman, Modern Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan and the Rimsha Masih Case: What Effect—if Any—the Case Will Have on Their Future Reform, 13 WASH. U. GLOBALSTUD. L. REV. 371 (2014), [1]
  10. ^ Boone, Jon (12 March 2015). "Salmaan Taseer murder case harks back to 1929 killing of Hindu publisher". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
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  13. ^ a b Yasif, Rana (28 November 2012). "1990 blasphemy acquittal: Judge's murder case put in 'hibernation'"". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  14. ^ a b c Asad, Tahir Naseer | Malik (8 January 2021). "Islamabad ATC sentences 3 to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  15. ^ Batool, Syeda Sana. "Wadi-e-Hussain: A graveyard for Pakistan's Shia victims". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Timeline: Accused under the Blasphemy Law". Dawn.com. 18 August 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ a b "Bad-mouthing: Pakistan's blasphemy laws legitimise intolerance". The Economist, 29 November 2014.
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  21. ^ "Pakistan: Christian nurse beaten and accused of blasphemy by her colleagues". France 24. 2 November 2021. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  22. ^ a b Hashim, Asad (21 September 2020). "Explained: Pakistan's emotive blasphemy laws". AlJazeera. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  23. ^ Hanif, Mohammed (5 September 2012). "How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  24. ^ Shahid, Kunwar Khuldune (11 June 2020). "Pakistan's forced conversions shame Imran Khan". The Spectator. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  25. ^ Attack on Hindus prompts blasphemy case in Pakistan| AP| 30 September 2012| dawn.com
  26. ^ Rabia Ali (30 September 2012). "Attackers of Hindu temple charged with blasphemy". The 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.
  27. ^ Butt, Shafiq (2 May 2016). "Blasphemy case against six for 'desecrating' Sikh youth's turban". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
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  30. ^ "Part I: "Introductory"". Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  31. ^ "Chapter 1: "Fundamental Rights" of Part II: "Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy"". Retrieved 24 April 2017.
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  36. ^ The Book on Trial: Fundamentalism and Censorship in India By Girja Kumar.
  37. ^ "CONSTITUTION (SECOND AMENDMENT) ACT, 1974". Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  38. ^ PPC S. 295-C, inserted by Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1986 (III of 1986)
  39. ^ Cf. e.g. Khurshid Ahmad vs. The State, PLD 1992 Lahore 1 Archived 14 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine, para. 35
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  41. ^ Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Retrieved 2023-04-23
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  45. ^ Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. NY: St.Martin's Press. pp. 282. ISBN 9780312216061. ... following the judicial amendment of the Federal Shariat Court in February 1990, [the Blasphemy Law] carried with it a mandatory death penalty.
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  50. ^ Siddiqi, Tabinda (19 September 2012). "Timeline: Accused under the Blasphemy Law". Dawn. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
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  55. ^ a b c d "Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom May 2009" (PDF). Pakistan. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. May 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 May 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  56. ^ United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (8 October 2008). "Asma Jahangir". United Nations. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  57. ^ "Christian Cleared of Blasphemy Charges Fired from Job, Facing Death Threats". International Christian Concern. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  58. ^ Stark, William (2020). "The Voiceless Victims of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws" (PDF). persecution.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 June 2020. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
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  60. ^ Ahmer Jamil Khan (21 February 2013). "An Assessment of Pakistan's Human Rights Record". Ahmer Jamil Khan. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  61. ^ "ePaper & Archives - The Nation". Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  62. ^ Islamic Parties in Pakistan Crisis Group Asia Report N°216 (PDF). International Crisis Group. 12 December 2011. p. 26. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  63. ^ "Activists Worry Pakistan's Blasphemy Law Is Being Abused". NPR.org.
  64. ^ a b Mehta, Harshil (13 August 2020). "Pakistan's Blasphemy Law A Weapon of Revenge Used Against Minorities". Outlook India. Retrieved 29 March 2024.

Further reading