Blasphemy Law in Pakistan: A Call to Question

LHR02 LAHORE (PAKISTÁN) 21/11/2010.- Seguidores de la Alianza de las Minorías de Pakistán (APMA, siglas en inglés) participan en una manifestación para exigir la liberación de la cristiana paquistaní Asia Bibi, acusada el 8 de noviembre de 2010 de haber insultado a Mahoma, hoy, domingo, 21 de noviembre de 2010, en Lahore, Pakistán. Asia Bibi, madre de cinco hijos, fue denunciada por un integrista islámico en junio de 2009, acusada de haber ofendido a Mahoma durante una discusión con varias mujeres musulmanas que habían rechazado beber agua que había tocado la cristiana, al considerarla "impura". Bibi fue detenida, después de que un grupo de musulmanes asaltaran su casa, en las cercanías de Lahore, y agredieran a sus hijos, y un tribunal paquistaní la condenó a muerte por blasfemia. EFE/Rahat Dar

Blasphemy laws are the portrait of pervasive issues flourishing in Pakistani society, whose consequences often lead to brutal violence and sometimes death. This is an intense religious fervour that is deeply entrenched in Pakistani society. A minute perceived hint of disrespect can gaslight the mob for a ferocious reaction and colossal societal unrest. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have always been a reason for human rights violations and violence. It also causes discrimination and injustice to religious minorities. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan were created during the 1980s. These have been used by the ruling community against minorities, particularly Ahmadis and Christians. Inciting mob violence and settling personal scores have always been done in the shadow of blasphemy laws.

Pakistan Constitution’s most brutal law, the blasphemy law, has been under the spotlight after the Muslim mob burned hundreds of Christian houses and churches in another case when the judiciary did not think twice before granting a death sentence to a 22-year-old student on the charges of blasphemy over Whatsapp messages. Since last year, it has been observed that not just the government administration is charging its citizens for blasphemy. Still, before the judiciary could do anything, the radical mobs killed and injured many individuals. On one of the occasions when, a woman was rescued by Pakistani police in Punjab province who was attacked by a mob because of some Arabic script on her dress that was perceived as blasphemy. More than 330 individuals were charged in 180 blasphemy cases only in 2023, highlighting the volatile nature of this issue. Extrajudicial killings under this law have become a forbidding reality. Shockingly, eight individuals died who were accused of blasphemy in mob lynching. This moral policing has not spared the Police station either, and the station was set on fire after the police personnel refused to hand over the accused to the mob. The blasphemy law has become cancerous for the constitution as well as the state of Pakistan, causing international defamation for the nationals.

The United Nations (UN) has expressed concerns about blasphemy laws in Pakistan, particularly regarding their potential misuse and impact on human rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and other human rights bodies have criticised Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for being used to target religious minorities, stifling freedom of expression, and leading to violence and discrimination.

These criticisms highlight the need for Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws to ensure they comply with international human rights standards and uphold principles of freedom of religion, belief, and expression. Additionally, the UN has called for the protection of individuals accused of blasphemy from vigilante violence and fair trials for those accused, as well as urging Pakistan to address societal intolerance and discrimination against religious minorities.

The government of Pakistan officially upholds blasphemy laws as necessary to protect religious sentiments and maintain social harmony. They argue that these laws are essential for safeguarding Islam and preventing disrespect towards the Prophet Muhammad and other religious figures.

Officials often emphasise respecting religious sensitivities and maintaining law and order. They maintain that blasphemy laws are part of Pakistan’s legal framework and reflect the country’s commitment to protecting Islamic values.

However, Pakistani authorities also assert that the laws should not be misused and that allegations of blasphemy should be thoroughly investigated through due process. They claim to be committed to ensuring fair trials for individuals accused of blasphemy and preventing any abuse of these laws for personal vendettas or discrimination against religious minorities.

Overall, the government of Pakistan typically defends blasphemy laws as necessary for preserving religious harmony and upholding Islamic values while also asserting a commitment to preventing their misuse and protecting the rights of those accused.

Recent incidents present an extreme example of this muddled trend where minorities have to witness the peril of attack solely based on the acquisition of blasphemy. Since the August 2023 incident, Christians have been living in peril despite being offered compensation and the promise of security. Several families were forced to stay in hiding or relocate to a comparatively secure region.

Blasphemy acquisitions are also evolving with technology and penetrating deep into the digital arena. Individuals have to face blasphemous penalties for posting on social media. In the era of the digital world, the cases of Junaid Hafeez and Aneeqa Atiq bring out the spotlight on blasphemy execution. This law has nearly killed the expression of freedom of speech in Pakistan.

Blasphemy acquisitions led to an increase in mob attacks and brutality by vigilantes. These vigilantes are perpetuating violence and targeting the accused along with their families, friends, communities and even their lawyers. The murder of Rashid Rahman, who was defending an individual accused of blasphemy, was brutally killed. This depicts the heinous nature of this law.

A blasphemy ruling by a judge causes public outrage and protest in major cities of Pakistan. Blasphemy law is deeply rooted in Pakistani society and is providing impurity to those who are against freedom of speech and expression. The inappropriate use of blasphemy laws targeting vulnerable sections of society, including women, children and people with low incomes, has been found by the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan under the report to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. Across the nation, individuals are undertrial and detained, and some are already sentenced under these blasphemy laws. Religious freedom and human rights are entirely shattered under the tight knots of blasphemy laws in Pakistani society, causing a wave of controversy. The subject has gained international attention, as minorities are continuously prosecuted under Blasphemy laws. The Pakistani government is not taking appropriate measures to address the notoriety in the name of blasphemy laws inside the country, regardless of international pressure and condemnation. In the Faisalabad district of Pakistan, recently, the churches were under attack under the milieu of blasphemy allegations. These cases indicate the administration’s failure to maintain law and order in Pakistan. The government completely lacks in the prevention and protection of minorities. It is the dire need of an hour to immediately and effectively curb abuse of blasphemy laws to protect the rights of Pakistani citizens regardless of their faith, belief and religion.

A Minority rights group based in Lahore under the Centre for Social Justice has reported several instances of violence in the silhouette of blasphemy. The reluctance of police authorities to interfere in cases of blasphemy-linked violence poses a serious question on the rationale of public authorities. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a rising militant group, demands the ruthless enforcement of blasphemy laws, which is further deteriorating the condition. This group is a significant voice in Pakistan despite being unable to win the parliamentary seats in national elections. In conclusion, blasphemy laws in Pakistan offer a grim reality of a society where accusations alone are capable of violence and death. Religious conservatism is deeply entrenched in the Pakistani Community, providing fodder for the rise of extremist and militant groups, causing incessant turbulence and strangling the right to freedom of speech of individuals.


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