Unpacking the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan: Laws That Cast a Dark Shadow on Life of Minorities

MG SINGH EMGE

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler who loves to visit and explore new places

Jinnah believed in secularism
Jinnah believed in secularism

Background

Pakistan was created out of India by the British who were intent on a policy of divide and rule. Muhamed Ali Jinnah had not demanded a state of Pakistan, and was dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister of a united India. Unfortunately for him, Patel and Nehru outsmarted him and he had to settle for a smaller state with two parts separated by almost 1000 miles of India. Religion cannot alone be a uniting factor, and ultimately, in 1971, the eastern part of Pakistan that was more secular and open broke away and formed Bangladesh.

A statement by Jinnah is worth reproducing here. He stated:

You will find that in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.

Muhamed Ali Jinnah was a secular individual. He commissioned the Hindu poet, Dr.Jagannath Azad, to write the first National Anthem of Pakistan. The anthem was sent to Jinnah, who approved it in a few hours. It was sung for the first time on Pakistan Radio, Karachi (which was then the capital of Pakistan) on 15th August 1947.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, Jinnah died a few months after independence and the Pakistan state lost its moorings and careered towards obscurantism and bigotry.

Thousands rally to uphold blasphemy laws VOA
Thousands rally to uphold blasphemy laws VOA

Fanaticism

The blasphemy law was drafted in 1860 when the British were the paramount power in India. The law was a copy of the English law and it is on record that there were hardly any convictions under this statute till 1947. The blasphemy law as codified under Section 295 was amended and the death sentence was made mandatory for anybody denigrating the Quran or the prophet. This was done during the rule of general Zia ul Haq and nobody had the courage after that to repeal it . Anybody who tried to get this draconian law amended like the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was shot dead or murdered. The governor of Punjab, was killed by his own body guard for saying the blasphemy law needs to be amended. His guard was garlanded and showered with rose petals by Pakistani lawyers when he appeared in court and now has at least one mosque named after him.

Nobody can explain why blasphemy should be such an emotive issue in Pakistan when other Muslim nations in the world are not that much concerned about it. As per the latest report as published by the Pakistani government and the UN commission on human rights there at about 95 people on death row for blasphemy all over the world, out of them more than 80 are from Pakistan. Now here is the clincher, out of these 80 more than 50% are from the minorities namely the Shia, Ahmedis, and Christians. Nobody can explain this. The worst affected are Christians and Ahmadis who constitute just 1% of the population yet almost 30% are held under this draconian law.

Another facet of this is the extrajudicial killings of those accused under section 295(c). The extremists in Pakistan have tremendous support as can be seen from the fact that one Christian lady Aasiya Noreen was acquitted by the Supreme Court after 8 years on death row and freed from prison, violent demonstrations broke out all over the country asking her to be hanged. it was with great difficulty that the Pakistani government could send her into exile to Canada.

the-blasphemy-laws-in-pakistanan-eye-sore-in-the-muslim-world

Future

While the Supreme Court and other Pakistani officials have recognized the growing problem of false blasphemy accusations being used to target religious minorities, political leaders—under pressure from certain religious groups—have made no serious steps to repeal the blasphemy law. Prime Minister Imran Khan has even publicly defended it. In a July 2018 campaign speech to Muslim leaders in Islamabad, he stated, “We are standing with Article 295c and will defend it,” referencing the constitutional clause mandating the death penalty for blasphemy.

No Pakistani can explain why 85% of all those sentenced to death for blasphemy in the world are from Pakistan. Also why the majority are from the minorities.Amid abuse of the blasphemy laws and cases widely reported across Pakistan, the European Parliament has moved to withdraw Islamabad’s GSP+ status on 26 July 2021.

There is however a positive point and that is till date no person has actually been executed and almost all of them just languish in prison. They are heavily guarded to to prevent vigilante justice from other prisoners.

Many right thinking people in Pakistan would like the laws to be watered down as they are giving a bad name to the country but there is little likelihood of it.

A Last Word

We must remember that Voltaire (1694-1778) philosopher, writer, and critic of the Ancien Régime with his writings shaped revolutionary ideology and to some extent was the inspiration of the French revolution of 1789. Hence it is important for writers to focus on social and religious evils like the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan and hope that at some stage enlightenment will dawn and these laws may be watered down. The Pakistan state should first abolish the death penalty and make the offense bailable.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_in_Pakistan

source https://soapboxie.com/world-politics/The-Blasphemy-Laws-in-PakistanAn-Eye-Sore-in-the-Muslim-World

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