Mobs in Pakistan? That’s Blasphemy!

Blasphemy laws have been implemented in many parts of the Muslim world. One of the countries that the World Watch Monitor (an organization “that reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith”) considers “the world’s most determined anti-blasphemy state” is Pakistan. There have been multiple accusations of blasphemy made and the number of cases have only risen since the laws were implemented, growing with the rising religious tensions, especially in recent years.

Major Blasphemy Cases

These laws had a basis in 1860 when India was ruled by the British for offenses relating to religion. The laws they implemented “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.” This was, according to The Economist, “to stop religious offence giving rise to rioting between Hindus and Muslims.” These laws were “Islamicised” under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq with the criminalization of “making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offence,” “life imprisonment for “wilful” desecration of the Koran,” and “blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.” The last one is punishable by death.

These laws, despite the majority of prosecutions being Muslim (633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987 according to National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)), have tended to target minority groups in Pakistan. One such case was Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl who was accused of burning pages of the Qur’an in 2012. She was acquitted and yet, despite her acquittal, there was an upheaval that forced her, her family, and her entire Christian community to flee their homes. There was also a young Christian couple in 2014, Shama and Shahzad Masih, that was burned to death in a kiln due to a rumor that stated that when Shama disposed of her her late father-in-law’s belongings by burning them (due to lack of sanitation facilities in her area meaning that this was the main way of disposing waste in her village), she burned pages of the Qur’an. This was amplified by clerics at nearby village mosques and led to them being killed by the crowds.

Shama and Shezahd
Shama (L) and Shehzad (R) Masih

These minorities also encompass the people who are critical of the blasphemy laws, such as politicians Salman Taseer, the then-governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, both were assassinated in 2011 for being publicly critical of the Blasphemy laws.

Salman Taseer
Salman Taseer

It is clear from these interactions that just an accusal of blasphemy can result in the death of the person by a mob. According to a study conducted by Pew, Pakistan had the highest amount of social hostilities relating to religion, yet was ranked 13 regarding governmental restrictions on religion.

restrict13-3

It is for this reason that the government is wary about amending these laws for, while secular political parties have had the amendment of these blasphemy laws on their agenda, they do not wish to antagonise the religious parties out of risk of death.
This demonstrates one of the fundamental problems of Pakistan, which is that it’s almost as if dissenting opinions (especially in relation to the Qur’an) will result in death most likely by the mob rather than the law. It is for this reason that they need to reform their laws, in spite of the religious parties currently in power, in order to at the very least help decrease conflicts in the area.

Minority Protests

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