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Amendment of Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan

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Nasr Muhammad


Aqib Ali

SS 100

21 November 2017

Amendment of Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan

Blasphemy is speaking sacrilegiously about God or other sacred things. It has been recognized as a criminal offense long before the birth of Pakistan. Legal punishment against such offences was introduced by the colonial British rulers of India in 1860 according to which it was a crime to insult any religious belief or intentionally destroy or defile a place or object of worship and was punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison. These laws were later expanded and inherited in the Constitution of Pakistan in 1947. Various clauses were added to the law between 1980 and 1986 by General Zia-ul-Haq during his military dictatorship under the Islamization scheme, according to which insult to the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) or intentional defiling of the Quran was declared to be punishable by death or imprisonment for life (What are Pakistan’s blasphemy laws). Since the amendment in the law there has been a suspiciously significant increase in the number of reported cases. Investigations have revealed most of these cases to be false accusations made in order to achieve ulterior motives or to unfairly target minorities. This law has proven to be a loophole in the Constitution of Pakistan encouraging people to take the law in their own hands resulting in mob attacks and mass murder. Moreover, many social activists argue that it is a violation of the basic human rights of freedom of speech and thought and the severity of the punishment demonstrates the non-tolerance of Pakistan over debates of religion. This law needs to be amended because it has been reported numerously to be misused to target minorities, encourages people to take the law in their own hands and is a violation of basic human rights of freedom of speech and expression.

The law was amended by General Zia-ul-Haq during his regime as the military dictator of Pakistan. In a country where even the most mundane laws take years to pass, this amendment of laws was made within a few hours as the mandate of a military dictator. Hence, introduction of the law was itself undemocratic. Moreover, all the Islamic texts provided by the court to cite their decision reveal a caveat. When studied in detail, all the seven texts clearly state that Non-Muslims are excused for the crime of blasphemy, as the sin of disbelief is greater than that of blasphemy, and even Muslims resentful of their sins should be forgiven. Since the amendment by Zia-ul-Haq there have been a suspicious increase in the number of reported blasphemy cases. Prior to this, there had been only seven reported cases. After the amendment, the number of blasphemy cases has risen to 1,335 (Blasphemy accusations increased after current law introduced). Most of these cases, when investigated, revealed to be false accusations and misuse of the law. Allegations had been made to settle personal scores, gain financial benefits or to use the court of law for personal benefits. For example, Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl with a learning disability was arrested on the charges of blasphemy. The case was dismissed by the High Court citing that the case had lack of evidence and was later discovered that her prosecution would have allowed the court to be used for ulterior motives (As Good As Dead, 7)

There have been numerous reported cases similar to the case of Rimsha Masih, however in many cases, people have preferred to take the law in their own hands resulting in murder of the accused without being given a chance to defend themselves or legal representation. This is because debates on religion in Pakistan are usually severe and sensitive at the same time and generally people tend to be emotionally sensitive towards any derogatory remark or comment on the topic. Moreover, the death penalty of the law encourages the extremists to physically assault the alleged as they think it is their duty to protect Islam. For example, a 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Mashal Khan, was murdered ruthlessly by a mob of students of the university over an unproven blame of blasphemy based on a rumor among the student body (Akbar). Similarly, Salman Taseer, former Governor of Punjab, was assassinated by a member of his personal security. The Governor was assaulted with a sub-machine gun just as he stepped out of his car in Khosar Market by Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the elite police force responsible for the protection of the Governor. The murderer handed himself to the authorities stating that Salman Taseer was a blasphemer as he supported Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy back in 2010, and that this is what should be done with blasphemers showing no regret for his actions (Khan). Mumtaz Qadri soon became a public hero and was praised all over the country for his brave and courageous actions. All of this reflects the non-tolerance of Pakistan over debates of religion. Hence, such a law encourages the people to take the law in their hands and should amended as to prevent such assaults.

Moreover, social and human right activist often argue that the blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a violation of basic human rights of freedom of speech and thought. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) freedom of expression is the basic moral right of all human beings. These laws can be molded by a country’s Constitution to ban libel or defamation against individuals, incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination against an individual, group or community strictly respecting legality and proportionality tests ensuring that the limitation freedom of expression is the exception. However, by their nature blasphemy laws always go beyond a ban on incitement to hatred or violence as they prohibit or problematize asking questions, offering criticism or the expression of satire or ridicule related to religion, specifically Islam. Moreover, the blasphemy laws are used to specifically and unfairly targets minorities protecting only the beliefs of the majority of the Muslim population. For example, in 2010 Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death over charges of blasphemy. Her crime being defending the sanctity of her religion when she was refused on offering water to some men working in the agricultural fields based on the fact that Aasia Bibi was a Christian. In defending her religion, she apparently insulted Islam and was later sentenced to death over her crimes (As Good As Dead, 8).



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