BLASPHEMY IN PAKISTAN
Under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, desecration of the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment and insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death.. According a 1984 law “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet...either spoken, written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed...shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be label to a fine.” In 1990 a Federal Sharia Court proclaimed, “The penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet...is death and nothing else.” Less serious form of blasphemy, of things like speaking ill of holy figures, such as one of Mohammed wives, is punishable by three years in prison or a fine.
According to Muslim blasphemy laws the saying of blasphemous words against Allah, implied or otherwise, is against Muslim law. Some interpretations of blasphemy also include saying of blasphemous words against Muhammad, implying that other prophets are ranked above Muhammad or defacing a Quran in any way. The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for it. The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death. Blasphemy laws, originally established to prevent people from disrespecting Islam, have been used by Muslim extremists to crack down on and harass opponents.
According to the BBC: “Correspondents say the mere accusation of blasphemy is enough to make someone a target for hardliners, as is defending those accused of blasphemy or calling for the laws to be reformed. A large majority of Pakistani people support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what the religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern-day law is codified. Many believe the law, as codified by the military regime of General Zia-ul Haq back in the 1980s, is in fact straight out of the Quran and therefore is not man-made. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020]
People Killed in Pakistan for Blasphemy
Although blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan no-one has ever been executed for it and many.blasphemy convictions are eventually overturned on appeal. Despite this dozens have been killed by mobs after being accused of the crime. As of 2010 at least 32 people awaiting trial or acquitted of blasphemy charges had been slain. Human rights groups say blasphemy allegations are frequently used to settle personal scores or target religious minorities. The Pakistani Supreme Court judges has warned of the danger of false blasphemy allegations. Even so new cases continue to be filed in the country. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020; Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2010]
Mubasher Bukhari of Reuters wrote: Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Mohammad is a capital crime for which dozens are sitting on death row. Even mere accusations are enough to spark mass uproar and mob justice. There have been at least 67 murders over unproven allegations since 1990, according to figures from a research center and independent records kept by Reuters. [Source: Mubasher Bukhari, Reuters, June 11, 2017]
Several violent incidents linked to blasphemy accusations in 2017 alarmed human rights groups and activists. in recent months. Police investigated over 20 students and some faculty members in connection with the killing of Mashal Khan, a student who was beaten to death on following a dorm debate about religion — an attack that shocked the country. Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post: “The outrage over Khan’s killing, however, did little to slow what is becoming an epidemic of anti-blasphemy vigilantism. Three days after his death, three sisters in a Punjabi village, carrying guns and wearing burqas, killed a man who had just returned to Pakistan 13 years after they said he had committed an act of blasphemy.” A few days later “in the remote northern Chitral region, hundreds of worshipers attacked a man after weekly prayers and accused him of blaspheming in the mosque. Police took him into custody, but people stormed the station house and demanded that he be handed over. Police officials, who said the victim might be mentally impaired, had to use tear gas and fire into the air to disperse the mob. [Source: Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 24, 2017]
History of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
In 1979 General Zia ul-Haq established the Federal Shariah Court, which was given wide discretionary powers to implement Hudood ordinances and blasphemy laws. A major component in the Islamization program, the Shariat Bill, was passed in May 1991. A later decision by the Federal Shariat Court has made defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad punishable by a mandatory death penalty. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are based in part on British colonial era laws that prohibited blasphemy against any of the South Asia’s faiths. In 1986, under Gen. Zia and, these laws were written to apply to Islam alone and originally called for life in prison. In 1992, a special religious court ruled that death penalty was mandatory. Efforts to reform or get rid of the blasphemy laws have been thwarted by large street protests by Islamic extremists.
Secunder Kermani of the BBC wrote: “Offences relating to religion were first codified by India's British rulers in 1860, and were expanded in 1927. Pakistan inherited these laws when it came into existence after the partition of India in 1947. Between 1980 and 1986, a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq. He wanted to "Islamicise" them and also legally to separate the Ahmadi community, declared non-Muslim in 1973, from the main body of Pakistan's overwhelmingly Muslim population. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020]
“The law enacted by the British made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship. The maximum punishment under these laws ranges from one year to 10 years in jail, with or without a fine. During the 1980s the blasphemy laws were created and expanded in several instalments. In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offence, carrying a maximum punishment of three years in jail. In 1982, another clause prescribed life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was "death, or imprisonment for life", in that order.
Pervez Musharraf, who led Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, backed down against Islamists on the issue of blasphemy laws. He had originally planned to aggressively reform Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and clamp down on the honor killing of women. September 11th gave him an excuse to crack down hard on them, which he did while extremists burned his effigy in the streets. “There is no reason why ths minority should hold the majority hostage,” he said.
According to the BBC: Amending the blasphemy laws has been on the agenda of many popular secular parties. None has made much progress — principally because of the sensitivities over the issue, but also because no major party wants to antagonise the religious parties. In 2010, a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Sherry Rehman, introduced a private bill to amend the blasphemy law. Her bill sought to change procedures of religious offences so that they would be reported to a higher police official and the cases heard directly by the higher courts. The bill was passed on to a parliamentary committee for vetting. It was withdrawn in February 2011 under pressure from religious forces as well as some opposition political groups.
“Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to defend the country's strict blasphemy laws in the run-up to his general election win” in 2018. “The status quo is still in place. Qibla Ayaz, who heads Pakistan's top advisory body on religious affairs, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), told BBC in February 2020 that no government was ready to make changes to the blasphemy law due to fears of a backlash. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020]
Problems with Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
Filling blasphemy charges in Pakistan is relatively easy. Most of those charged are denied bail and convicted. The trials can last a long time and sometimes years pass before they even begin. The deaths sentence is given in fewer than half the cases and is usually held up in appeal.. Some of those who are charged are clearly insane and would be placed in a mental institution if they lived in any other country.
A controversial law, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, has drawn a great deal of attention from critics associated with the Human Rights Commission in 1993-94. Introduced in 1986 by Zia, the law, referred to as "the blasphemy trap," states that "whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death or imprisoned for life and shall be liable to fine." The law extends to Muslims and nonMuslims alike, but it has been indiscriminately used against members of minorities. *
The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said while visiting Pakistan in 2005: “My response is one of great shock, great dismay that this can still go on...The problem is not so much about the idea of a law against blasphemy as about a law whose penalty is so severe and whose practice gives so much scope for allowing people to settle private scores."
According to Amnesty International, several dozen people had been charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. In all cases, these charges appear to have been arbitrarily brought and to have been based on an individual's minority religious beliefs or on malicious accusations. Benazir Bhutto, sensitive to Pakistan's image in the world community, attempted to approve changes in the blasphemy law in order to "curb abuses of the law" — especially those involving false accusations and fabricated cases. Critics claim, however, that Benazir, constantly under attack for being too liberal by the religious right, has been overly cautious and slow to introduce amendments to the law.*
Abuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
A review of the blasphemy laws by the minister of religious affairs said the that majority of cases originate from "ill-will and personal prejudice." In some cases blasphemy laws have been used to hound people out of their property or out of a good job so the property or job can be claimed by someone with ties to the accuser. Usually, evidence of blasphemy is minimal apart from accounts given by accusers."There's a fundamental lunacy to it," said Ali Dayan Hasan,South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Los Angeles Times . "There is no goodspin to put on the blasphemy law. It's used frequently in these preposterous ways, for preposterous reasons."
The blasphemy laws are used to attack liberals. One human rights worker told the New York Times, "Before saying anything in this country, you must always be aware of the forum, the place and the time. If accused of blasphemy, you are in great difficulty. The mullahs are not known for their generosity. Even if exonerated, you will always be in danger."
Blasphemy trials are often based on flimsy evidence and rely on testimonies of Muslim against and the word of minorities. Suspects are often held without bail while religious cleric whip up support against the accused by packing the court with zealots who "show righteous concern."
Some of those who are charged under blasphemy laws are eventually set free but even then they are not out of danger. Muslim extremists vow to kill them if they are set free. Sometimes they are killed before they are sentenced or before their case comes to trial. Some are killed in jail by other prisoners.
Judges are afraid to throw out even weak blasphemy cases out of fear of attacks from Muslim extremists. Sometimes the judges are the victims. In 1998, a judge in Lahore was killed by Muslim extremists after he overturned a blasphemy conviction against two Christians.
Victims of Blasphemy
Accusations of blasphemy increased from one in 2011 to at least 68 in 2014 according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. More than 80 people were accused of blasphemy in 2014. According to Reuters: Activists say the accusations are increasingly used to grab property or money, target minorities and settle political scores. Cases can take years to go through the courts. [Source: Syed Raza Hassan, Katharine Houreld, Reuters, May 20, 2014]
Secunder Kermani of the BBC wrote: “The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) — a voluntary organization that has been documenting blasphemy cases for decades — says that Muslims constitute the majority of those booked under these laws, closely followed by the Ahmadi community. Data provided by National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) shows a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmedis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2018. The vast majority of these cases were lodged for desecration of the Quran — far fewer for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Critics say the fact that minorities figure so prominently in the cases shows how the laws are unfairly applied. Often the laws are used to settle personal scores and have little or nothing to do with religion.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019: “The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges from life in prison to execution for a range of charges, including “defiling the Prophet Muhammad.” According to civil society reports, there were at least 84 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 29 of whom had received death sentences, as compared with 77 and 28, respectively, in 2018. The government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy. According to data provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), police registered new blasphemy cases against at least 10 individuals. Christian advocacy organizations and media outlets stated that four Christians were tortured or mistreated by police in August and September, resulting in the death of one of them. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom]
In 2011, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards after he called for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed but not before becoming a hero in the eyes of the religious right. At least 65 others have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies and media show.
By some counts more than 2,500 people have been charged with blasphemy laws, with around 2,000 of them being Ahmadis, a Muslim sect that does not recognize Mohammed as the last prophet.. In 1993, 121 people were charged under the blasphemy laws, 6 Muslims, 8 Christians and 107 members of the Ahmadis. As of 1996, most of the cases were still pending. Many of these went to prison. A handful of death sentences were handed down but no one had been executed.
Declan Walsh and Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: “The Pakistani police often are forced to register blasphemy cases against their wishes, human rights campaigners say, either to save the accused blasphemer or their own officers from attack. In July 2012, a large crowd, prompted by inflammatory statements from local mosques, swarmed a police station in Bahawalpur district in southern Punjab, searching for a blasphemy suspect who was being interrogated by police. The mob seized the man, beat him to death and burned his body outside the station. A similar mob attack occurred in June in Karachi, although in that case the police beat back the protesters.” [Source: Declan Walsh and Salman Masood, New York Times, August 20, 2012]
In January 2014, court in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi has sentenced a 70-year-old British man to death after convicting him of blasphemy. Muhammad Asghar was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to various people claiming to be a prophet, reports say. His lawyers argued for leniency, saying he has a history of mental illness, but this was rejected by a medical panel. [Source: BBC, January 24, 2014]
Muslim Charged Under the Blasphemy Laws
In 2001, a prominent doctor and medical professor was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Dr. Younus Shaikh told students that the Mohammed wasn’t a Muslim until he founded the religion with his revelations, which occurred when he was about 40. He also said the prophet’s parents were not Muslim and Mohammed was not circumcised until he was in his 40s. He was also charged with blasphemy for discussing the practices of circumcision and pubic hair shaving in relations to Mohammed and Muslims. Muslim extremists said it was blasphemous to say that Mohammed was anything but a Muslim at any time in his life.
Human rights activists said that Younus Shaikh was singled out because of his liberal views and political activity. He is a member of the Hindu Peace Movement and the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Muslim extremists showed up in numbers at his trial and said the judge faced serious consequences if he didn’t impose the death sentence. A mullah addressing the case told the New York Times, "Even if someone is only half conscious" or "the man says he sorry and that he repents. But to be sorry now is not enough. Even if a man is sorry he must die." Shaikh was charged in October 2000. A judge ordered that he pay a fine of 100,000 rupees, and sentenced him to death by hanging. On appeal, in November 2003, a court acquitted Shaikh, who soon afterwards fled to Europe.
In June 2002, Mohammed Yusuf Ali, the founder World Assembly for Human Excellence, an organization devoted to promoting peace and tolerance, was charged with blasphemy for writing sacrilegious newspaper columns in March 1997 and claiming he resembled the Prophet Muhammad. In August 2000, he was convicted and officially declared an infidel. In June 2002, he was shot and killed by a fellow prisoner, a murderer who somehow managed to get his hands on a gun and shoot Ali while he was changing cellblocks.
In 2000, two men were sentenced to seven years for allegedly burning a Quran, In another case, a devout Muslim doctor that accidently burned a page of the Quran on a stove in his house was attacked and killed by an angry mob. According to police reports the doctor was jailed and was set on fire by zealots lead by a firebrand cleric that stormed the prison. There were no arrests for the killing of the doctor. Another man was found guilty of blasphemy even though two government-appointed doctors testified the man was mentally ill. There have been several blasphemy cases involving the mentally disabled. In July 2002, a mob dragged a mentally ill man charged with blasphemy the year before from his home and beat him with iron rods and stoned him to death. A mentally disabled woman was raped and set on fire in 1999 in the Punjab after being charged with blasphemy.
Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Accused of burning pages from the Quran, Imran Latif was charged with blasphemy in Lahore, but then released on bail November 2010 after questions arose about the veracity of the charges. Eight days later, two men shot him to death in an attack police believe was linked to the blasphemy case.” In December 2010, “in the southern city of Hyderabad, a Shiite Muslim doctor was arrested on blasphemy charges after police received a complaint that he had maligned the prophet Muhammad. His crime? He tossed out the business card of a pharmaceutical company representative whose first name, Muhammad, was printed on it. The doctor belongs to the smaller Shiite sect known as Ismailis.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2010]
Some Sufi leaders — regarded as near heretics by some Muslim extremists — have said that they regard the issue of blasphemy as an opportunity to take political wind from the conservative Deobandi sect. Barelvis, member of the dominant more liberal Muslim sect in Pakistan, consider themselves the truest lovers of Islam's prophet Mohammad, and defending blasphemy offers the followers a chance to prove their religious mettle and anti-Western credentials, analysts say. [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, January 29, 2011]
Blasphemy Laws Used on Minorities
The decision by the Federal Shariat Court to make the defiling of the name of the Prophet Muhammad punishable by a mandatory death penalty raised concerns in Pakistan's small Christian community and especially among the badly persecuted Ahmadiyya religious minority. Orthodox Pakistani Muslims consider Ahmadiyyas heretical, and the group has been prohibited from asserting any claim to being Muslim — even the use of everyday Islamic greetings. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”:“Though the constitution provides for religious freedom, the government has placed restrictions on a number of religious groups” and says “actions or speech contrary or derogatory to Islam are illegal. There have been many cases of trials, imprisonment, and even death sentences based on the violation of these "blasphemy laws." Religious minorities face a great deal of harassment and discrimination and have been the object of physical violence. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “Similarly, Pakistan's blasphemy laws privilege Sunni Islam above all other religious beliefs and serve as the legal basis for discrimination, victimization, and persecution of Shiites and non-Muslims. There are no measures in place to protect the civil and political rights of Shiites and non-Muslims who fall outside the boundaries of the ummah (Islamic community), as defined by Sunni ideologues in Pakistan. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]
“Although Pakistan is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, legislation gives absolute preeminence to Sunni Islam. Any statement or action by religious minorities that seems offensive to a Sunni male can be deemed blasphemous. The testimony of a single Sunni male is grounds for arrest and prosecution. Bail is denied for those held on blasphemy charges. Religious minorities and women are prohibited by law from instigating blasphemy cases. The vagueness of the charge leaves the law open to abuse and facilitates numerous false accusations. Pressure by religious extremists upon the judiciary practically ensures that plaintiffs will not receive a fair hearing. Often defendants are killed prior to court hearings. Reflecting the extreme atmosphere of religious intolerance and sectarian violence in Pakistan, those acquitted by the courts have been murdered by extremists or have been forced to flee the country. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]
Use of Blasphemy Laws Against the Ahmadis
By some counts 2,000 of 2,500 people that had been charged with blasphemy laws into the early 2000s were Ahmadis, a Muslim sect that does not recognize Mohammed as the last prophet. In 1993, 121 people were charged under the blasphemy laws, 6 Muslims, 8 Christians and 107 Ahmadis. There are believed to be 500,000 to 2 million Ahmadis in Pakistan.
Ahmadis believe that the 19th century Punjabi Muslim reformer Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1839–1908), was a Messiah who claimed to have succeeded the Prophet Mohammed. Many Muslims regarded Ahmadis — the followers of Ahmadiyya — to be heretics. As members of an unrecognized offshoot of Islam, the Ahmadis face a particular level of discrimination. They are prohibited by law from referring to themselves as Muslims or posing as Muslims in anyway. If they ostensibly they can be charged with blasphemy.
Peter Gottschalk of Wesleyan University wrote: “Ahmadis have been the targets not only of electoral discrimination but also of vandalism against their places of worship. They have been accused of blasphemy, and laws have made it illegal for them to recite the Quran. They are also not allowed to have Islamic inscriptions on headstones, or even call their places of worship “mosques.” Many have despaired of finding acceptance in their national homeland and emigrated to other nations. In Pakistan, as the recent election shows, they continue to struggle with a nationalist politics of exclusion. [Source: Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University, The Conversation, August 8, 2018]
In November 1993, four Ahmadis were arrested for blasphemy on vague allegations of saying “something derogatory.” As of 2002, their trial had not begun. People in their village say they were imprisoned to began with because a dispute with a local headman. On another occasion, two Ahamdais, women their 60s, were charged in Karachi with blasphemy by a Muslim tailor who stabbed them. The victims were taken from the hospital to prison. Their attacker was never charged with any crime.
In April 2020, an Ahmadi woman was charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument after she attempted to make a donation to a local mosque. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020]
Christians Targeted by Blasphemy Laws and Vigilantism in Pakistan
Christians make about 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s population. There have been many Christian victims of Pakistan’s strong anti-blasphemy laws. According to Associated Press: “Pakistan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and people of other faiths, including the nation’s small Christian community, are often viewed with suspicion. Sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Such accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it’s extremely difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers. According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences”. In 2012 “there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local cleric where she lived was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail. [Source: Associated Press, March 9, 2013]
“While Muslims are frequently accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan’s small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations, said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf. Only in Christian cases will violent mobs punish the entire community for the perceived crime of one Christian. She said often these blasphemy cases are personal grudges or disputes masquerading as religious fervor.“Most of the time there are other motives involved,” she said, such as scaring off Christian residents to grab their property.
According to the Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper: “The religious chauvinism that has become rampant” in Pakistan “is nowhere in better evidence than in the case of Fanish Masih.” In September 2009, “in village Jaithikey near Sialkot, allegations spread that Masih and four other young men had desecrated a copy of the Quran. Requiring no proof, a slavering mob burnt down a church and ransacked nearby houses. The terror felt by the areas Christian residents was such that the entire community — some 30 Christian households amongst over a 100 Muslim homes — abandoned their dwellings and fled. [Source: Dawn Editorial; September 17, 2009]
“Masih was found dead in his cell...with jail officials claiming he had committed suicide. The exact circumstances of Masih’s death are shadowy and merit a thorough inquiry: the method of “suicide” described so far by the jail authorities raises many questions. Moreover, having taken him into custody, it was the duty of the authorities to keep Masih safe.”
”Outbreaks of communal tension – especially that stoked by allegations of blasphemy – can have a snowball effect. This incident comes on the heels of the tragedy in Gojra, where several Christians were killed and many homes were torched by a similarly enraged mob. As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan pointed out in a recent statement, “allegations of blasphemy and defiling of religious scriptures… do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens.” In the Jaithikey incident, a case has been registered against unknown people for burning down the church.”
Christian Victims of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
Between 1991 and 1998, five Christians were accused of blasphemy in the Punjab: two died while in custody; one was murdered during his trial and two were killed by mobs before they could be arrested. One was stabbed to death in the Punjab city of Faisalabd. Another was shot dead outside a Lahore high court.
In April 1998, Ayub Masih, a Christian and former mason in the Punjabi town of Arifwala was found guilty of blasphemy for reportedly saying, “If you want to know the truth about Islam then read Salman Rushdie.” Masih was shot by one of his accusers but survived, only to receive his guilty sentence a few months later. Human rights workers said Masih was charged because he tried to obtain land through government housing program and this angered a powerful Muslim landlord who resented this because most of the Christians on his turf were little more than bonded servants.
In 1998, a Roman Catholic bishop committed suicide, by shooting himself dead in the head, on the steps of a courthouse in Lahore to protest Masih’s sentence. Thousands of Christians chanted anti-government slogans and beat their chests outside the courtyards. The death sentence was later dropped but not before clashes between Muslims and Christians resulted in the razing of 70 houses occupied by Christians.
Two Christians — a 40-year-old man and 14-year-old boy — were sentenced for blasphemy after allegedly painting anti-Islamic graffiti on the walls of a mosque. One of their accusers reportedly removed the writing and said the slogans were so offensive that he could not say what they were. Another accuser was illiterate.
In 2014, Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were sentenced to death for sending blasphemous text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad to a local imam from a phone number registered to Shagufta Kausar's name. As of 2020, the couple had spent more than six years in jail waiting for an appeal against their death sentence to conclude. The married couple According to the BBC: Shagufta's brother Joseph told the BBC the couple were innocent , and he doubted they were literate enough even to have written the abusive messages. Shagufta worked as a caretaker in a Christian school, whilst her husband Shafqat is partially paralysed. [Source: Secunder Kermani, BBC, June 3, 2020]
“Joseph said on a visit to jail, Shafqat told him he had been tortured into making a false confession: "He told me the policeman hit [him] so hard that his leg was broken."Lawyer Saif ul Malook told the BBC he believed the case against Shagufta Kausar and her husband was even weaker than that against Asia Bibi. He said that in their trial they suggested a Christian neighbour they had argued with might have purchased a SIM card in Shagufta Kausar's name and sent the messages in order to frame them.
Christian Couple Burned Alive After Blasphemy Accusations
In November 2014, a young, illiterate Christian couple in the Punjab in Pakistan was lynched and burned by a mob after being accused of committing blasphemy based on false charges of tossing out pages of the Holy Quran along with the rubbish. International Christian Concern reported: Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife, Shama, were accused of desecrating a Quran at the brick kiln where their family worked and lived in the village of Kot Radha Kishan. A mob of hundreds of enraged Muslims descended upon the brick kiln and surrounded a small building where the couple had taken shelter. The mob broke into the small building, beat the Christian couple, and burned them alive on the brick kiln. [Source: International Christian Concern, January 14, 2019]
In November 2016, five people were sentenced to death over burning of Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan. AFP reported: “An anti-terrorism court (ATC) sentenced five people to death over the killing of a Christian couple who were lynched and burned in a kiln after being falsely accused of blasphemy. The deaths of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi caused outrage in the country and saw other Christian families living near their home in Punjab flee the area in fear.
“Witnesses described how an angry mob of hundreds of people set upon the couple near Kot Radha Kishan, attacking them and then throwing their bodies into a brick kiln. It is unclear whether they were still alive when tossed into the kiln. [Source: AFP, November 23, 2016]
Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the couple’s family, said a total of 103 people had been charged in the case. But the court in the eastern city of Lahore had acquitted 90, including the owner of the brick kiln. He had been accused of locking the couple up as they tried to flee for fear they would default on their debt to him.
Apart from the five sentenced to hang, eight others were given two years’ imprisonment. “The five people awarded the death sentence were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple while the other eight played a supportive role according to the judgement,” Anjum said. Senior prosecutor Khurram Khan confirmed the ruling.
In March 2018, 20 suspected in taking part in 2014 Kot Radha Kishan lynching were acquitted by the ATC. Dawn.com reported; Shahzad and Shama were burned alive in a brick kiln by a frenzied lynch mob ─ incited by announcements made from mosques in the area ─ ranging between 400-1,000 people for their alleged role in the desecration of the Holy Quran. Both husband and wife were brick kiln workers, and the woman, a mother of three, was pregnant at the time. Police had registered a case against 660 villagers after the incident. The court today acquitted 20 suspects, giving them the benefit of doubt [Source: Rana Bilal, Dawn.com, March 24, 2018]
Pakistani Mob Torches Dozens of Christian Homes After Christian Accused of Blasphemy
In March 2013, a Pakistani mob torches dozens of Christian homes in Lahore after a Muslim man accused a Christian of blasphemy. Associated Press reported: Hundreds of people rampaged through a Christian neighborhood, torching dozens of homes after hearing reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet. The incident started when a young Muslim man accused a Christian man of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the prophet, according to Multan Khan, a senior police officer in Lahore. A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian man’s home on Friday night, said Khan. Police registered a blasphemy case against the man after the crowd gathered and demanded action, the officer said. [Source: Associated Press, March 9, 2013]
“Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight. Khan said the mob returned on Saturday and began ransacking Christian homes and setting them ablaze. He said no one in the Christian community was hurt, but several policemen were injured when they were hit with stones as they tried to keep the crowd from storming the area.
“Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men — one Christian and one Muslim — than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback. He said the Christian community handed over to police the accused man, identified by police and Gill as Sawan Masih, when police came to the neighborhood to investigate. Then the Christians all locked up their houses and went to relatives in other areas. He said the mob was armed with hammers and steel rods and broke into houses, ransacked two churches and burned Bibles and crosses.
“Poor people were living here. They have lost all of their belongings,” he said. “Where can they go now?” The scene was chaotic. An Associated Press reporter said roughly 150 homes were torched. One man was seen carrying a dog and some puppies from a burning house. Refrigerators, washing and sewing machines, cooking pots, beds and other household goods were ripped from homes, smashed and burned in the streets. One Christian couple from the neighborhood said they went to their Muslim neighbors’ house on Friday night after people came looking for the Christian man accused of blasphemy. Ishaq Masih said the Muslim neighbors sheltered the couple for the night and then gave them money to leave the area in the morning.
“After the mob dissipated, residents began to slowly return to their burned-out homes. They have burnt each and every thing in my whole house. Nothing is left here. I don’t know why this happened,” said Samina Riaz. “Now we don’t have even enough to eat.”
In March 2014, Sawan Masih, was sentenced to death for blasphemy for using derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed in a row with a Muslim friend. He argues the real reason for the blasphemy allegation was a property dispute between him and his friend.
Muslim Mob of 1,500 Attacks Christians After Blasphemy Allegations
Reporting from Sangla Hill, a market town 200 kilometers south of Islamabad in 2005, Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times, “The people gathered inside Holy Spirit Church were quiet and somber. The altar was covered in debris. Pictures of Jesus and Mary lay in a heap nearby. Torn copies of the Bible were scattered about. “We have never seen anything like this," Boota Masih, 48, said. “We have wailed and we have cried," he said, of his fellow Christians in Sangla Hill after the church was ransacked. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, December 11, 2005]
“A mob of about 1,500 Muslims — urged on by local clerics who announced over their mosque's public address system that a Christian had desecrated a Quran — not only attacked the church here, but also gutted a Presbyterian Church and one belonging to the Salvation Army. A convent school, a nun's hostel and half a dozen houses were set on fire. The November 12 attacks sent shockwaves through the country's Christian minority, leaving them with a sense of insecurity. And once again, blasphemy laws were blamed for worsening sectarian relations. 88 people have been charged with ransacking and burning churches and property, and 3 police officials were suspended for negligence.
The attack appeared to be another example of the blasphemy laws being used to settle a score. “A local Christian man, Yousaf Masih, 45, was identified as the desecrator, but in sometimes conflicting accounts, his relatives said the allegations were invented by a man who owed Mr. Masih a gambling debt. "My brother is totally innocent," said one of Mr. Masih's brothers, Zulfiqar Humayun, 35. Mr. Masih is now under arrest at an undisclosed location. But local Muslims say that on the day before the violence — a Friday, Islam's holy day — Mr. Masih set on fire a room used for storing old copies of the Quran after a shouting match with the man who owed him money. The next day, a local politician spread the account in a speech, and soon, the mob began its work.
“The town's main Muslim cleric, Mufti Muhammad Zulfiqar Rizvi, a soft-spoken 63-year-old with a flowing dark-red beard and a curling moustache, said the mob was made up of "people from outside." “Our religion, Islam, teaches us to protect the lives and property of minorities," he said. Whoever they were, the attackers were methodical and precise. It took them just four hours to sweep through the town, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Mr. Masih's house was gutted; the houses of two of his brothers were also set on fire. "They used a special chemical," said one brother, Tariq, 27, describing a reddish-orange flammable substance that was splattered on the walls of his house.
“Similar stains could be seen on the walls of St. Anthony's high school, where fire had blackened ceilings. “I am broken," said the headmistress, Sister Anthony Edward, 68, a frail woman with a quivering voice. "Ninety percent of the pupils of the school were Muslims. I don't know what is behind this." At the Presbyterian church, in a nearby neighborhood, the Rev. Tajammal Pervez was bitter. Several calls to police officials seeking security for his church and residence were unheeded, he said. “It is the incompetence of police," said Reverend Pervez, 54. He was standing in the rubble of what used to be his bedroom. The charred roof had fallen in. Trunks and cupboards, their locks broken, had been set on fire; nothing remained except for the wreckage of burned furniture. "A friend bought these clothes for me that I am wearing," he said. Christians have been living for generations alongside Muslims in Sangla Hill, according to Reverend Pervez, and relations were cordial. But the violence changed everything, he said. “The good are a few, the bad ones are more," he said.
Asia Bibi Blasphemy Case
Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib wrote in the New York Times: “ In one infamous case in 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death, accused of blaspheming Islam. It later emerged that her Muslim colleagues had ordered her to fetch water as they harvested berries on a hot day. When she drank from the communal cup, they accused her of polluting it and an argument ensued. The case was eventually thrown out for lack of evidence, after Ms. Bibi spent eight years on death row and her family was forced into hiding by the death threats they received. [Source: Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, May 4, 2020]
According to the New York Times: Ms. Bibi, a former farmworker in her early 50s who has five children, found herself at the center of the issue in June 2009. On a hot summer day, Ms. Bibi had gone to pick berries with her Muslim co-workers. She brought water for them on the orders of a local landlord, but the Muslim women refused to touch the water bowl. A bitter argument ensued, each side presenting a different version of the verbal exchange. Muslims said Ms. Bibi had uttered vile abuses against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Ms. Bibi insisted she had not and that she was the victim of false accusations prompted by bigotry. She was dragged to a local police station and charged with blasphemy, and until Wednesday remained in jail. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, October 31, 2018]
Reporting from Nankana Sahib, near Ittan Wali, the dusty farming village. where the incident happened, not long after Bibi was charged, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim isn't worried that a court or Pakistan's president might spare” Bibi. After all, if she “escapes the hangman's noose, he's confident someone else will kill her. "Any Muslim, if given the chance, would kill such a person," Salim said calmly, seated cross-legged on a straw mat at a mosque here. "You would be rewarded in heaven for it." Salim isn't the only one calling for vigilante justice. A cleric in Peshawar has offered 500,000 rupees, or US$6,000, to anyone who kills Asia Bibi, if her execution doesn't take place. Other hard-line clerics have warned they would mobilize nationwide protests against the government if President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned her. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2010]
“In Asia Bibi's case, her accusers were three Muslim women who worked alongside her picking fruit in a field in the tiny mud-hut hamlet of Ittanwali, in eastern Pakistan. On June 14, 2009, as Asia Bibi and the three women sat under a tree eating lunch, an argument broke out. Asia Bibi had drunk water from the same glass the others had been using, which prompted them to avoid that glass, said Mafia Sattar, one of the women. Asia Bibi reacted angrily, making several disparaging remarks about the prophet Muhammad and adding that the Quran "is not a book of God, but a book written by you people," Sattar said during an interview at her home in Ittanwali.
“That evening, Sattar's sister told cleric Salim's wife what Asia Bibi had said. Five days later, a band of villagers marched to the field, grabbed Asia Bibi, and brought her to Salim. She admitted making blasphemous remarks, Salim said, and later repeated her admission at the Nankana Sahib police station. But according to a police report, Asia Bibi insisted to investigators that she was innocent. "My God knows that I never used those words," she told police investigator Syed Amin Bukhari. Arrested and imprisoned, Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy November 8 and sentenced to death.
Asia Bibi's husband has received death threats and has had to go into hiding with their teenage daughters. "This has been so terrible for us," said Asia Bibi's sister, Najma Younis, 31, shooing away a cloud of flies from her toddler daughter. "I am very worried that they are going to go ahead and hang her. Asia's got kids, and I'm very worried about what will happen to them."
In 2018, Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy was successfully overturned after she was acquitted by the Supreme Court. The verdict led to violent protests by hardline religious groups. Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri, one of the leaders of Tehreek-e-Labaik, told supporters in Lahore, that the three justices who delivered the verdict were risking death. He also called for the removal of the Pakistan army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa. Protesters in Islamabad blocked one of the main highways that connect the capital to the neighboring city of Rawalpindi. They also burned tires and chanted slogans against the decision. Bibi left the country.
Christian Girl’s Blasphemy Arrest Cases Furor in Pakistan
In 2012, a Christian girl living in the suburbs of Islamabad was arrested and imprisoned on blasphemy charges after being accused of burning a religious textbook. A plastic bag containing some burned papers and ash, were presented as evidence with the claim that the girl had been carrying them around with her.
Declan Walsh and Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: “The police jailed the girl, Rimsha Masih, and her mother after hundreds of Muslim protesters surrounded the police station here where they were being held, demanding that Ms. Masih face charges under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. A local cleric had said Ms. Masih had burned pages of the Noorani Qaida, a religious textbook used to teach the Quran to children. As Pakistani Muslims celebrated the feast of Id al-Fitr, Ms. Masih and her mother were being held in Adiala jail, a grim facility in nearby Rawalpindi, awaiting their fate. Meanwhile, a number of the girl’s Christian neighbors had fled their homes, fearing for their lives, human rights workers said. [Source: Declan Walsh and Salman Masood, New York Times, August 20, 2012]
“Senior government and police officials agreed with Christian leaders that the accusations against Ms. Masih were baseless and predicted that the case would ultimately be dropped. Still, the case has already grabbed global headlines and inspired a hail of Twitter posts, even though several details are in dispute. Christian, and some Muslim, neighbors said Ms. Masih was 11 years old and had Down syndrome. Senior police officers dismissed those claims; one described her as 16 and “100 percent mentally fit.”
“Neighbors said the girl’s family were sweepers — work shunned by Muslims but common among poor Christians — and lived in a slum area in Islamabad. Malik Amjad, landlord of the family’s rented house, said the controversy started after his nephew saw Ms. Masih holding a burned copy of the Noorani Qaida. The nephew informed a local cleric, Khalid Jadoon, Mr. Amjad said. Desecration of Muslim holy texts is illegal in Pakistan and punishable by death.
“But Mr. Amjad said the incident bothered few local residents initially and caught fire only at the instigation of the cleric and two conservative shopkeepers. “He tried to shame people by saying, ‘What good are your prayers if the Quran is being burnt?’ ” Mr. Amjad said. Mr. Amjad said he handed the girl over to the police for her own protection and criticized the cleric’s role. “He exaggerated the incident and provoked people,” he said. It was not clear how, or even if, Ms. Masih had come across the burned religious book. One neighbor, Malik Shahid, said it might have simply become accidentally swept up in a trash pile she was collecting.”
Later the cleric who whipped up the frenzy, Khalid Chishti, was arrested and accused of planting pages of the Quran in the plastic bag linked to the girl. The girl was released on bail after spending three weeks in jail and subsequently found shelter in Canada along with her family. Later Chishti was also released. [Source: Zarar Khan, ,Associated Press•August 17, 2013
Shahbaz Bhatti — Christian Cabinet Member of Critics of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws — Assassinated
In March 2011,Shahbaz Bhatti — a Christian critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws — was killed by assassins who left leaflets signed 'Taliban al-Qaida'. Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: Self-described Taliban gunmen have shot dead Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country's blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home. Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister's car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a "Christian infidel". The leaflets were signed "Taliban al-Qaida Punjab". [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, 2 March 2011]
Bhatti's 22-year-old niece Mariam was first on the scene. "I rushed out to find his body covered with blood. I said "uncle, uncle" and tried to take his pulse. But he was already dead," she said at Bhatti's house, extending a bloodstained palm. The sound of wailing women rose from the next room. Bhatti's assassination was the second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months, following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a cafe a few miles away” in January, 2011. Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. "I am sad and upset but not surprised," said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti's house. "These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It's not a matter of if, but when."
“The only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, Bhatti had predicted his own death. In a farewell statement recorded four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida. But he vowed not to stop speaking for marginalised Christians and other minorities. "I will die to defend their rights," he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera. "These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles."
“Lax security did not help. Witnesses and police said Bhatti was travelling with just his driver when he came under attack less than 50 meters from the Islamabad home he shares with his mother. A small white car carrying gunmen blocked his way. After an initial burst of fire they dragged Bhatti's driver from the vehicle, then continued firing through a side window. "It lasted about twenty seconds," said a neighbour, Naseem Javed. "When I rushed out I saw the minister's driver standing by the car, shivering, and his niece weeping and shouting." "They fired 25 bullets," said a police officer beside a bullet-pocked pavement, holding a handful of brass Kalashnikov bullet cases.
“As they left the gunmen flung pamphlets on to the road that blamed President Asif Ali Zardari's government for putting an "infidel Christian" in charge of a committee to review the blasphemy laws. The government insists no such committee exists. "With the blessing of Allah, the mujahideen will send each of you to hell," said the note.”
Protesters and Liberals Support Assassin of Punjab Governor Who Criticized Blasphemy Laws
In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province and an outspoken secular politician who had campaigned reforms of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was shot and killed by his police bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, outside a cafe in an upscale area of Islamabad. Qadri was executed in 2017 but has been hailed as a martyr by religious hardliners. According to Reuters: A political party founded in Qadri’s honor has made blasphemy its central issue” and forced the government to retract within a day a change in electoral laws that it deemed blasphemous. Party supporters blocked the main road into Islamabad for nearly three weeks in 2017 in a protest against a law minister they accused of blasphemy. The government eventually gave in, agreeing to an army-brokered deal that included the resignation of the minister. [Source: Reuters, February 7, 2018]
Shortly after Taseer was killed, Karin Brulliard wrote in the Washington Post: “Loud support for the confessed killer is coming from an unlikely quarter:” the Barelvi. “While many factions have lauded the slaying, the peace-promoting Barelvi sect has spearheaded mass rallies to demand the release of the assassin, a policeman. Because most Pakistanis are Barelvis, their stance is challenging the belief long held among liberals here that the Muslim majority in this nuclear-armed nation is more moderate than militant. [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, January 29, 2011]
“While it is unclear whether the public reaction to Taseer's slaying signals widespread militant sympathies, there is little doubt here that religious conservatism has deepened... "We represent the voice of the people," said Sfarish Ali, 26, a teacher here at the vast Jamia Naeemia seminary, a Barelvi institution whose leader was killed when extremists bombed the school in 2009. "Our rulers are the slaves to Western countries . . . so they are under pressure when it comes to religion. But we are not." The support Barelvis have expressed for Taseer's assassination has prompted some alarm that more Pakistanis are opting to adopt, rather than oppose, hard-line tactics. A U.S. official expressed concern that more-militant Islamic groups might exploit the issue to win the Barelvis to their cause, on the basis that killing in the name of religion is morally, legally and politically justified. "For all we know, Qadri may have been a lunatic,'' the U.S. official said. "But once he did this, he essentially put a whole different set of things in motion."
“The Sufis' prominence in the praise for the governor's assassin illustrates one reason it has proved difficult to gauge the depth of religious radicalism in Pakistan. Competing strands of Islam infuse all corners of politics, defying easy labels such as pacifist, moderate, extremist or violent. "This is a very basic concept. If you kill an innocent person, it means you are killing all humanity," said Mohammed Ziaul Haq, a council spokesman and author whose new book is titled "WikiLeaks: America's Horrendous Face." "Islam is a religion of peace and love, and it asks its followers to restrain themselves."
“But killing in response to blasphemy is another matter, he said, making it "totally different from terrorism.'' The government had done nothing to silence Taseer's criticism of the blasphemy ban, he said, or his support for a Christian woman sentenced to death for the law, which he said had made Taseer an "indirect" blasphemer himself. "Ninety percent of people in Pakistan think Mumtaz Qadri is a hero," Ziaul Haq said. "If it's a democracy, the government should think about that."
“Yet Barelvi leaders who were interviewed struggled to explain how championing Qadri's deed was compatible with support for government authority. At Jamia Naeemia, an enormous pink structure where cheerful teachers eagerly give tours, one teacher praised the killing but then admitted he was horrified when he first heard about it. He did not want to be quoted saying that, however.
“Ragab Naeemi, the principal and leader of a demonstration in support of the killer, said the assassination was clearly sanctioned by the Quran. The government needed to be sent a clear message that it must ensure the legal system preserves the sanctity of Islam, he said. He added that Taseer, a brash businessman whose secular lifestyle made him something of a playboy by Pakistani standards, made it easy to pick sides. "Being Muslim, our leaders should be neat and clean," Naeemi said. "So people think eradication of Salman Taseer is 100 percent right."
TV Station Charged with Blasphemy After Feud with Spy Agency
Board of Film Censors checks films and television shows to make sure they are not obscene, blasphemous or critical of Pakistan or Islam. In May 2014, the television station Geo was hit with dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress. Reuters reported: Geo “said it was ramping up security” and scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam. “This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he told Reuters. “This could lead to mob violence.” The accusations pit Pakistan’s most popular private television channel against increasingly vocal religious conservatives, just as the station was emerging from a bruising battle with the country’s spy agency. [Source: Syed Raza Hassan, Katharine Houreld, Reuters, May 20, 2014]
“The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised. Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting. Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.Scores of people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by mobs and Aslam said despite broadcasting apologies, the station had received threats to kill journalists and their families. The accusations follow Geo’s high-profile tussle with Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, whom it accused of shooting of” Mir. “That controversy had barely died down when Geo was engulfed by a flood of blasphemy accusations.
“Islamabad High Court accepted a petition brought by a lawyer representing a group of clerics affiliated with the radical Red Mosque in the capital. Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station. ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself. Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month. Clips of Geo’s controversial program have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube, which was blocked in Pakistan in 2012 because of fears that it may show blasphemous content.”
Pakistan Bans Famed Religious TV Host for Blasphemy Allegations
In January 2017, Pakistan’s television regulator banned a well-known talk show host for hate speech, after he hosted shows accusing liberal activists and others of blasphemy. Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Pakistan that carries the death penalty and encourages violence by religious right-wing vigilantes. The BBC reported: “Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who describes his program aired on Bol TV as the country’s leading television show, had been at the forefront of a campaign to discredit liberal activists who went missing this month, as well as those defending them. [Source: Saad Sayeed, Kay Johnson, BBC, January 26, 2017]
“In a document sent to Bol TV and seen by Reuters, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said Liaquat’s show “wilfully and repeatedly made statements and allegations which (are) tantamount to hate speech, derogatory remarks, incitement to violence against citizens and casting accusations of being anti-state and anti-Islam.” Liaquat had blamed several prominent Pakistanis for an anti-state agenda and being either sympathetic to, or directly involved in, blasphemy against Islam’s founder, the Prophet Mohammad.
“Liaquat, famous for combining religion and game shows, has often courted controversy. He once gave away abandoned babies during a broadcast, and caused uproar by airing vitriolic hate speech against the Ahmedi minority. One of the targets of Liaquat’s show was activist lawyer Jibran Nasir, who filed a police complaint under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act on Thursday charging him with “running a defamatory and life-threatening campaign”.
Classical dancer Sheema Kirmani has received death threats after Liaquat targeted her on his January 19 broadcast. Classical dance was banned under the regime of military dictator Zia ul Haq, who pushed for greater “Islamization” of Pakistan in the 1980s, as being associated with obscenity. The situation is potentially worse now than during the Zia era, Kirmani said. “Previously the government could close the auditorium, or arrest you, but now anyone sitting in the audience can decide ‘I am not going to allow this.’”
Pakistan Sentences Man to Death for Blasphemy on Facebook
In 2017, a Pakistani counter-terrorism court sentenced a man to death a man for allegedly committed blasphemy on Facebook, the first time such an action was taken against someone for blaspheming on social media. Mubasher Bukhari of Reuters wrote: “The conviction of Taimoor Raza, 30, follows a high-profile crackdown against blasphemy on social media by the government. Shafiq Qureshi, public prosecutor in Bahawalpur, about 500km (300 miles) south of provincial capital Lahore, said Raza was convicted for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad, his wives and companions. “An anti terrorism court of Bahawalpur has awarded him the death sentence,” Qureshi told Reuters.”It is the first ever death sentence in a case that involves social media.” [Source: Mubasher Bukhari, Reuters, June 11, 2017]
“It is rare for a counter-terrorism court to hear blasphemy cases but Raza’s trial fell under this category because his charge sheet included counter-terrorism offences linked to hate speech. Qureshi said Raza was arrested after playing blasphemous and hate speech material on his phone on a bus stop in Bahawalpur, where a counter-terrorism officer arrested him and confiscated his phone. The material obtained from the phone led to Raza’s conviction, he added. “The trial was conducted in Bahawapur jail in tight security,” Qureshi said
“Qureshi added that Raza belongs to the minority Shia community and in court he accused of spreading “hate speech” against the Deobani sect, which adheres to a strict school of Sunni Islam. Relations between Shia and majority Sunni communities have flared up at times in Pakistan, with some extremist Sunni groups such as Lashkhar-e-Janghvi trying to exploit sectarian tensions.
Student Killed by Mob in Pakistan for Alleged Blasphemy After Dorm Debate
In April 2017, Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student, was shot and beaten to death by fellow students at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan who had falsely accused him of blasphemy. According to Reuters: Khan was known as an intellectually curious and religious student who liked to debate controversial social, political and religious issues. He was attacked and killed by a mob on the campus on April 13th after a dormitory debate about religion.” The attack was led by university officials and radical Muslim students. A few days after the incident, police said Khan had done nothing to insult his faith. [Source: Reuters, February 7, 2018]
Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law is often used as a pretext for attacks on religious minorities or personal enemies. Khan’s killing included both elements: It was instigated by opponents of his campus activism and liberal social views, and it was carried out by an inflamed mob. As the first such killing in a university setting, it also highlighted the spread of Islamic zealotry among young, educated Pakistanis — precisely the populace that might be expected to resist it. “A seat of higher learning was the venue. . . . The motive was to silence a brilliant student who dared to speak his mind. . . . The charge of blasphemy came in handy to inflame sentiments,” wrote commentator Zahid Hussain in the Dawn newspaper. The anti-blasphemy media campaign, he said, has emboldened accusers while cowing politicians and public figures into silence. “It reminds one of the Inquisition in Europe during the Middle Ages,” Hussain said. [Source: Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 24, 2017]
Khan was “a brash young man who had posters of Che Guevara and Karl Marx in his dorm room and advocated the rights of cafeteria workers at Abdul Wali Khan University” His father, Iqbal Khan Iqbal, a social worker and poet in his 70s, “described his son as an intellectually curious, outspoken young man who had explored Sufi mysticism and studied in Russia but had never strayed from his Muslim upbringing. He expressed particular horror that Khan had been killed by fellow students, reportedly egged on by university officials in retaliation for criticizing official policies. Police have arrested 22 people in the case. “Universities are places of learning and knowledge,” Iqbal said. “If such incidents are taking place there, what can we expect from the rest of society?”
“On the Mardan campus, which has been closed since the killing, several students recalled how Khan had angered officials with his criticisms and how some religious student leaders had exhorted others to oppose him on Facebook. They described how the mob burst into the journalism department on April 13, searching for him and chanting, “Allah is great.” Later, the attackers found him hiding in his dorm room, where they broke down the door and beat him to death. One of Khan’s professors, Shiraz Paracha, called him a “shining” and attentive student who spoke up for others’ rights. “This inhuman killing has left many questions about a university as a place of learning,” he said. “I know it will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Reaction to Mob Killing of Pakistani Student After Dorm Debate
Reporting from Zaida, Khan’s home town, Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post: “Even in his ancestral village here in northwestern Pakistan, where 23-year-old Mashal Khan was the pride of the community, the pointed finger of blasphemy made him an instant pariah. As word reached Zaida this month that Khan, a journalism student at a university in nearby Mardan city, had been fatally beaten and shot by an enraged student mob for supposedly blaspheming against Islam, neighbors shrank from his family in suspicion, and the local cleric refused to lead a funeral prayer. [Source: Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 24, 2017]
“It wasn’t until several days later, after a more complex story emerged implicating university officials and radical Muslim students in falsely accusing Khan, and police declared he had done nothing to insult his faith, that the villagers dared to express grief and organize a funeral. “I lost my son, my friend and my light. It shattered my world,” said his father.“But my greatest sorrow was that no one in the village came to offer condolences.”
“Khan’s campus lynching April 13 provoked an immediate nationwide uproar. It seemed to mark a dangerous new low in the intensifying religious and cultural clash in Pakistan over blasphemy.Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged Pakistanis to condemn the slaying, and the National Assembly unanimously called for new safeguards in the nation’s blasphemy law to prevent its misuse by false accusers and vigilantes. But the mob killing was also the unsurprising outgrowth of recent, stepped-up hysteria over the emotional issue, magnified by social media, in which televangelists and conservative talk-show hosts have accused secular activists, bloggers, journalists and others of blasphemy. Even Sharif was denounced for his warm remarks to Pakistani Hindus during the festival of Diwali in October.
“Since Khan’s death, some legislators and opinion makers have pressed for legal measures to deter false blasphemy charges and the mob violence they often provoke, although religious party leaders immediately raised objections, signaling the initiative’s likely failure. Sen. Rehman Malik, a strong advocate of the measures, said it was not a matter of blasphemy but of misuse of the law. “The mob cannot be a prosecutor, judge, investigator and executioner,” he said. “What we are saying is that someone who falsely accuses another of blasphemy should receive equal punishment.”
But in the current atmosphere of fervid religiosity, when some Muslims seek refuge in piety and others become righteous rabble-rousers, iconoclasts like Khan can be seen as dangerous deviants. Here in Khan’s village, an elder named Ghulam Farooq confessed that he had been among those troubled by rumors that Khan was a blasphemer. After local clerics warned that it would be un-Islamic to attend his funeral, Farooq said he did not offer condolences to the family. Once he learned the truth, however, he was angry and ashamed. “I am so upset that we are being taken hostage by a bunch of mullahs,” he said.
The outrage over Khan’s killing, however, did little to slow what is becoming an epidemic of anti-blasphemy vigilantism. Three days after his death, three sisters in a Punjabi village, carrying guns and wearing burqas, killed a man who had just returned to Pakistan 13 years after they said he had committed an act of blasphemy.” A few days later, “in the remote northern Chitral region, hundreds of worshipers attacked a man after weekly prayers and accused him of blaspheming in the mosque. Police took him into custody, but people stormed the station house and demanded that he be handed over. Police officials, who said the victim might be mentally impaired, had to use tear gas and fire into the air to disperse the mob.
Thirty-One Convicted in Connection with the Mob Killing of Pakistani Student
In February 2018, a Pakistani court convicted 31 people in connection with Khan’s killing. One one of them was sentenced to death. Barrister Ameerullah Chamkani told Reuters one of the 31 accused had been sentenced to death, five were jailed for life and the other 25 were jailed for four years. The court acquitted 26 others out of a total of 57 people indicted by a court late last year. [Source: Reuters, February 7, 2018]
Reuters reported: “Mr Chamkani said one of the convicts, Imran Ali, had been sentenced to death because he had shot Mashal three times. The accused were students, teachers and some officials of Abdul Wali Khan University named after a secular political leader in northwest Pakistan. They all pleaded not guilty in the trial conducted at a high-security prison due to threats to defence lawyers and government prosecutors, Mr Chamkani said.
“Khan’s younger brother, Aimal Khan, told reporters he was not happy about the acquittals and his family would decide whether to challenge the court decision. Khan’s family say they have been threatened since his death and his two sisters have had to drop out of school while police guard his grave. “
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022