South Asia

Two vigilante murders within a week in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations

Senators in Pakistan issue call to reform controversial Blasphemy Laws

Three women dressed in burqas opened fire and killed an alleged “blasphemer” in Nangal Mirza village, Pasrur tehsil, on 20 April 2017. The women identified as Amna, Afshan and Razia, reportedly went to the house of Mazhar Hussain Syed, a faith healer, and asked him to pray for them.

They enquired whether Syed’s son, Fazal Abbas, 45, had returned from Belgium and asked to see him. As soon as he came before the women, they opened fire at him, killing him on the spot. The women reportedly celebrated the killing. 

In a statement to the police the women said that Abbas had committed blasphemy in 2004 but they could not kill him, as they were too young. The police later confirmed that there was indeed a case registered against Abbas in 2004 under the controversial Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, but that he had fled the country.

Abbas had recently returned back to face charges against him and had even been granted bail by a local judge.

This is the second act of vigilante killing over alleged charges of insulting Islam in Pakistan in the last one week.

Earlier on 14 April, Mashal Khan, a student of journalism at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan, Pakistan, was brutally murdered by a mob. He was accused of “publishing blasphemous content online”.

According to eyewitnesses, Mashal and his friend Abdullah, both Mass Communication students, were attacked by a mob of at least 3000 – 4000 people, because it was believed that they were “promoting the Ahmadi faith on Facebook”.

While the police was able to rescue Abdullah, Mashal, who was at the hostel, succumbed to his injuries after he was beaten and shot by the mob, who celebrated as he died, according to a video being circulated on social media.

The brutal murder of Mashal Khan shocked the liberal and secular Pakistanis who took to social media to express their rage and to protest against the vigilante style lynching.

It has also prompted senators in Pakistan to issue a call to reform the controversial Blasphemy laws.

The National Assembly passed a resolution on 18 April, condemning the brutal murder of Mashal Khan and calling for amendments to the blasphemy laws to prevent ‘such atrocities in the future.’

The text of the resolution stated: “This House unanimously condemns the barbaric and cold-blooded murder of Mashal Khan and resolves to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in the future, including by mobs involved in such crimes,”

The resolution further states, “This House strongly demands the Federal and Provincial governments to take strict action, in accordance with law, against the perpetrators and facilitators of this heinous crime, including those making hate speeches. This House condemns all those who take the law into their own hands and engage in vigilantism, resulting in loss of innocent human lives.”

Members across party lines in Pakistan signed the resolution including those from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organisation working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan, has “welcomed calls from the Pakistani Parliament to reform the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.”

Mr Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK gave statement to Global Christian News and welcomed the parliament’s resolution. “It is great news as in the past whoever tried to speak about changes in the blasphemy law was shut up and even threatened with death. Those who raised their voices, like Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed in broad daylight, and their killers hailed as heroes.”

“I wish the Pakistani parliament had taken this step and realised the sensitivity of the issue earlier, saving many innocent people who were killed for a crime they never committed. Their lives could have been saved, but it is still not too late.” He added.

The vigilante deaths over blasphemy have taken place in less than a month since the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, had directed the authorities to remove ‘blasphemous’ content from social media and to take measures to ensure that any such content is not posted in future.

Calling blasphemy an “unpardonable offence”, Mr. Sharif had insisted, “social media corporations should be brought to justice without delay.”

His statements had come days after the Islamabad high court had called upon religious scholars to jointly deal with the blasphemous content and hate material available on social media. “This is a greatest form of terrorism and people involved in this heinous act are biggest terrorists,” the court had observed.

Blasphemy laws are a sensitive subject in Pakistan and have been criticized by International bodies and observers both from outside and within Pakistan. There have been repeated calls for the repealing of the Blasphemy laws, which are more often than not used to settle personal scores or take over properties. The Christian minority has often faced the brunt of the violence and harm that the laws bring.

According to statistics over 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan from 1987 to 2014 and over 60 have been killed extra-judicially since the passing of these laws in 1988.