Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are one the most stringent in the world, and carry a possible death sentence for anyone who insults Islam or the Prophet. The British Era blasphemy law continues to be the hallmark of the human rights violations in Pakistan, as it has been widely misused against the minority communities and fellow Muslims who take up a compassionate stance.
One of the most shocking incidents of the notorious Blasphemy laws in Pakistan was the assassination of the Punjab Governor – Salman Taseer, who was brutally shot dead by his own security staff. The murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, believed Salman Taseer to have backed blasphemies against the Prophet Mohammed, allegedly made by a member of minority Christian community girl, Aasia Bibi.
Aasia Bibi was accused of and consequently convicted of blasphemy, after allegations by Muslim neighbours that she insulted Islam. Apparently, Aasia Bibi had an elongated argument with her neighbours a day before the fictitious allegations were leveled against her. Punjab Governor – Salman Taseer possibly smelled the “revenge” factors which had been true for most blasphemy cases in Pakistan, and requested for a presidential pardon, deeming the law too oppressive.
History of Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan
The crimes relating to religion were initially penned by British rulers in India. Pakistan inherited these laws after the partition of India and creation of new state of Pakistan. Between 1980 – 1986, the blasphemy laws were modified and a significant number of clauses were added to it on commands of the military government of General Zia-ul Haq.
General Zia-ul-Haq was very passionate to completely “Islamicise” Pakistan. He also strived to make a successful attempt to separate the minority Ahmadi community from Islam, and thus declared them non-Muslim in 1973. Even today, the minority Ahmadiyya community is not only discriminated but also highly persecuted in Pakistan and not considered Muslims.
What does the Blasphemy Laws Say?
The law passed by the British Empire in India made it a criminal offence to disturb a religious gathering, transgress on burial grounds, ridicule religious sentiments or wilfully damage or dishonour a place or an object of worship. The maximum punishment under these laws ranges up to 10 years in jail.
During the 1980s in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws were amended and included a punishment up-to three years who would make any derogatory remarks against Islam. Another clause was added a couple of years later, which designated life imprisonment for intentional disrespect of the Islamic Holy Book, the Koran. A few years later in 1986, an additional clause was included to punish anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad with the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Who is affected by the Blasphemy Laws?
The Human Rights Commission has been recording blasphemy cases in Pakistan for a long time. Their report says that around 40% of people booked under the blasphemy laws belong to the highly discriminated and targeted, Ahmadiyya community.
A considerable majority of people support the idea that people should be punished insult Islam, but there is inadequate knowledge of what the religious books actually say. Many people support the blasphemy law, which was implemented by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, and is considered direct adaption from the Koran.
When Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated who was an eminent detractor of the notorious blasphemy law, Pakistan remained divided, with some hailing his assassin “Mumtaz Quadri” as a hero.
Can Blasphemy Laws be Amended in Pakistan?
Revising the blasphemy laws in Pakistan has been on the list of almost all major political parties. However, none of the parties was able to make a headway, not only because it was a delicate issue, but because no major political party wanted to offend the religious ulemas, who hold a significant sway over the people.
Right after a month of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti – 1st Federal Minister of Minority Affairs in Pakistan and a Roman Catholic, was assassinated in Islamabad after he allegedly criticised the outdated blasphemy laws.
Sherry Rehman – a member of the then ruling government introduced a bill to revise the blasphemy law. The bill was an attempt to reform the process of blasphemous offences where every alleged blasphemous offence would be reported to a senior police official and the cases heard undeviatingly by the top courts. The bill was moved to a congressional board for vetting but was later withdrawn under pressure from religious ulemas and political parties.