Christian Persecution

Why does Pakistan have such a problem with its blasphemy laws?

Days after the Islamabad High Court called upon the religious scholars to jointly deal with the blasphemous content and hate material available on social media, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 14 March directed the authorities to remove blasphemous content from social media.

He called blasphemy an “unpardonable offence”. He said that social media corporations should be brought to justice without delay.

Statement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as released on twitter on 14 March

According to a statement released on Twitter by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz official account, the Prime Minister 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.

The PM ordered all concerned authorities to take necessary actions in accordance with the judicial guidelines in this regard.

“Love and affection to the Holy Prophet is the most precious asset for every Muslim,” said Nawaz Sharif.

He directed that international corporations responsible for social media should be approached for a blockade of blasphemous contents and he ordered the Pakistan Foreign Office to play its role in this regard.

The High Court noted: “This matter requires immediate attention otherwise patience of the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad may run out.”

Calling this as the greatest form of terrorism the court observed: “This is a greatest form of terrorism and people involved in this heinous act are biggest terrorists.”

On Feb 27, the bench had directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)to block pages or websites containing blasphemous material.

Secretary Ministry of Information Technology Rizwan Bashir Khan, PTA Chairman Syed Ismail Shah, Senior Superintendent of Police (operations) Sajid Mehmood Kiani and officers of the Federal Investigation Agency appeared before the court on 7 March 2017. “The petitioner adopted that the pages and videos against the Holy Prophet and revered personalities had not been blocked by the respondents nor any step taken so far. As a result, the culprits were encouraged and fearlessly opening more pages using different names,” according to Dawn.

“We will go to any extent even if we have to go to the extent of permanently blocking all such social media websites, if they refuse to cooperate,” Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said on 16 March.


The Blasphemy Law

Section 295 (B) of the Pakistan Penal Code deals with blasphemy under which over 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy from 1987 to 2014. ‘The vast majority of the accusations were lodged for desecration of the Quran,’ reports IndiaToday. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported. Pakistan’s laws became particularly severe between 1980 and 1986, when a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, to “Islamicise” the laws.

Religious minorities make up four per cent of the population of Pakistan. As reported by the World Watch Monitor they account for half of the blasphemy charges filed in the country.

The mandatory penalty for insulting Mohammad in Pakistan is death, though no one has ever been executed for the crime.

Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws.


Blasphemy Law criticised Internationally

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been criticised severely by international bodies and observers as well as voices from within Pakistan who have called for the repealing of the controversial laws. It is however the Christian minority that has had to face the brunt of the violence and the harm that the laws bring.

More often than not these laws are used to take over properties of Christians and to settle personal scores. Asia Bibi who is on the death row since 2009

Crowd demanding Asia Bibi’s release

after being convicted of blasphemy by a local court, is perhaps the most well-known example of the way these laws have been used to target minorities.

Salmaan Taseer, the liberal politician of Pakistan, who opposed the blasphemy law and called for pardon for Asia Bibi was shot down by his guard Mumtaz Qadri, who became a cult figure among the hardliners in Pakistan.

Nabeel Masih

Sixteen-year-old Nabeel Masih is currently the youngest blasphemy accused in Pakistan. He is booked under the blasphemy law in the Kasur district of the Punjab province of Pakistan for ‘liking’ and sharing a picture of Khana-e-Kaaba, a building at the heart of Islam’s most sacred mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  A Muslim friend of Masih saw the post on his timeline and informed the police on 16 Sep 2016 claiming that the picture has been posted in a ‘derogatory manner’, hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.

Masih was denied bail last month on 7 February 2017.

Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK said, “The misuse of the Blasphemy law continues to rise against Christians and other religious minorities. Blasphemy laws clearly violate international human rights treaties ratified by the Pakistani government, therefore it is the duty of the international community to build pressure on the Pakistani government to fulfil their international obligations and bring their law in line with these treaties.”