Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

From November 2103 Persecution Report

 

By Jerry Dykstra

 

While Aasiya Bibi has been languishing in Pakistani prisons since 2009 for having allegedly blasphemed the Prophet Mohammad, she is not the only one imprisoned or facing death under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported this year that at least 16 people are on death row for blasphemy and 20 others are serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. However, no one has ever been executed on blasphemy charges. 

 

Aasiya was convicted of blasphemy under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code 1860 which states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any amputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

 

The blasphemy law has morphed into an abusive weapon that reaches beyond religious discrimination in some instances. Generally it is presumed that Christians, Quadianis and Ahmadis residing in Pakistan are the main victims of blasphemy. However, in the past decade there have been instances of it being used to victimize vulnerable Muslims in a bid to gain property or just harass communities. It is a no-fail attempt for destroying an enemy, because no one will question acts of blasphemy, particularly those against Islam, Mohammad and the Quran.

 

In most cases which come to the courts for alleged blasphemy, those victimized are generally either considered socially inferior or vulnerable, coming from villages and smaller settlements called bastis. The vulnerable often are Christians. More often than not Muslims accuse Christians of blasphemy either to get hold of their properties or to intimidate them to drive them out of a certain area or locality. This happens especially when a particularly fanatical and extremist Muslim leadership group becomes active in a certain area. Simple personal animosity also becomes a reason for Muslims to attack Christians or other non-Muslims with the law. That was the case with Aasiya as a co-worker brought the original charge against her. It is an easy means for Muslims to win over the minorities in Pakistan because when the issue of faith is brought in to question, the honor of faith, particularly Islam, is to be defended at all cost.

 

Muslims in Pakistan are able to manipulate the blasphemy law easily — not only because of the gaping loopholes in this law, but also because of the unlimited support they receive from various religious and extremist groups. They hardly need any evidence.

 

There are approximately a dozen Islamic-dominated countries, such as Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Qatar, with various forms of blasphemy laws.

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