PAKISTAN: A Historical Overview of Blasphemy Laws 

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to inform you about the research based report on historical overview of Blasphemy laws in Pakistan the Blasphemy published by Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. The research was compiled by Mr. Nafees Muhammad, a writer and research fellow. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has the privilege to issue the report for public.

The known blasphemy cases in Pakistan show that from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 offenders of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and among them were, 258 Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis, and 4 Hindus.

The report mentions that since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered, for being implicated in blasphemy charges. Among these were 25 Muslims, 15 Christians, five Ahmadis, one Buddhist and one Hindu.

According to different reports, more than 1,000 people have been charged in Pakistan for committing offences against blasphemy laws. Among them are young, old, and children belonging to all faiths and creed. Some of them are even mentally challenged, physically impaired or illiterate.

The report observes that in comparison to Pakistan, blasphemy cases and laws in other three Muslim states Indonesia, Malaysia and Iran are much less and much more moderate.

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The study offers:
a. A historical overview of the evolution of legislation on blasphemy
b. The impact of the law as a preventive toll to blasphemous acts and
c. How do other Muslim countries deal with this offence?

The report draws on newspaper reports, court cases, and different opinions expressed in the national press to provide substantial information for the readers and to help them draw conclusions based on factual socio-political realities. The intent of this report is not to draw a conclusion in favor or opposition of but to bring all the facts before the readers and let them draw conclusions on their own. However, an equally important issue is the misuse of this law in a society to settle personal feuds, tribal and community rivalries.

The circumstances which led to the traumatic ordeal that Rimsha Masih and poor Christian families of Joseph Colony faced recently, has amply demonstrated the potential for abuse of the blasphemy law – a law that is meant to prevent desecration of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) but can easily be turned against individuals or groups by vested interests. The hazards associated with it, particularly for the innocent, are huge and require an extremely strict scrutiny of the existing procedures. Desecration or denigration of any sacred personality, including the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) must be condemned and prevented but this must happen through due process of law and not mob-justice. The latest incidents have made a critical scrutiny of the procedures involved imperative as never before.

The executive summery take a historical perspective of the Blasphemy Laws and according to it, the Blasphemy laws were first introduced in the Indian subcontinent by its British colonial rulers.

Before that, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence was briefly enforced during Mughal rule on the subcontinent but history is silent if there were any blasphemy laws prevalent at that time.

Communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims before the partition of the subcontinent backed by political interests of different groups, including colonial rulers, were the main reason behind enactment of blasphemy laws.

As efforts by leaders like Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah failed to forge Hindu-Muslim unity against the colonial rule, tensions between religious communities began to rise. These tensions led to several communal riots in undivided India. Unscrupulous elements from both sides exploited the situation and left no stone unturned to create hatred against one another which also resulted in writing and publication of hate material by both sides.

The growing chasm between Hindus and Muslims suited the designs of colonial powers to perpetuate their rule and also provided them with an opportunity to enact blasphemy laws.
The British government promulgated four laws in the undivided India to deal with the issues of blasphemy.

Pakistan inherited these laws after it was carved out of India in 1947. With the death of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali within a year of independence, the newly founded nation lost its way how to move forward, resulting in political chaos and intrigue, accentuated eventually by the military interventions.

The ensuing tussle and tension between the political forces of East Pakistan and West Pakistan gave an opportunity to conservative religious lobby to sow seeds of hatred among masses. There was tension between Hindus and Muslims in Eastern wing while in West Pakistan a forceful movement led by Majlis-e-Ahrar was launched against Ahmadi, a minority sect seen heretical by the mainstream Muslim communities.

The Ahmadis were ultimately declared non-Muslims officially by Pakistan in 1974 but the bigotry approach of Islam by former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq was the main reason that exacerbated communal and religious tensions in Pakistan. He introduced exemplary reforms in blasphemy laws, some of them Ahmadi-specific, which were later exploited by the religious extremists. Ironically, blasphemy-related cases have seen a phenomenal increase after introduction of changes into blasphemy laws by the Zia regime.

From 1851 to 1947, when the British ruled this region and the hatred between the Muslims and Hindus was at the pinnacle, there were only seven blasphemy-related incidents but during Zia’s rule along (1977-1988) alone, as many as 80 blasphemy cases were reported to the courts. As a whole, between 1987 and Aug. 2012 we have seen almost 247 blasphemy cases registered or raised, directly affecting lives of 435 persons approximately.

The absence of democratic rule or little regard for due process of law has been the major contributing factor to the rise of communal tensions in Pakistan. Coincidently or conspicuously the emergence of most of the dictatorships were always preceded by the communal and political unrest in the country.

General Zia-ul-Haq (July 1977-August 1988) is remembered by his opponents and supporters alike. His opponents accuse him of destroying whatever little liberalism and tolerance this country had while his supporters eulogize him for re-inventing the very ‘Islamic foundation’ of the country they believed, was lost after the death of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

One of the greatest sins of Zia in the eyes of the liberals is the introduction of blasphemy laws 295B, 295C, 298A, 298B, and 298C to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), inherited from undivided India. No law in the country has ever been the cause of so many controversies as this one. The basic objective of the law, say its supporters, was to discourage people from taking the law into their hands but the opponents say it only served the interests of radicals and it was massively abused to target religious minorities by whipping up religious sentiments of the people.

Late 2010, the issue of Pakistani blasphemy law hit international headlines when former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer visited a Christian woman Aasia Bibi who had already been sentenced to death by a court for allegedly committing blasphemy. His visit was meant to express solidarity with the convict. He later also termed the practice of blasphemy law as the Black Law practice. Taseer’s remarks ultimately culminated in his death on January 4, 2011 at the hands of his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qaderi at an upscale market in Islamabad.

Two more blasphemous incidents of that drew attention of the local and international press were against the Christian community. One was the false accusation of a Christian teenage girl, Rimsha Masih, by a cleric, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, in the suburbs of Islamabad. Enraged by the incidents, the Muslims of the adjacent locality resorted to violence against the Christian community living in the area forcing them to flee away to other locations for their safety.

Rimsha, arrested on August 16 from a suburban area of Islamabad, was accused of burning papers from the holy Quran, and later charged of blasphemy. Later after the investigations, it was found that the cleric Khalid Jadoon Chishti had concocted the case against her, who was then arrested. On 20 November 2012, Islamabad High Court acquitted Rimsha with following remarks in its judgment:

“While announcing the verdict, Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, Mr. Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman remarked that it is a highly sensitive matter and one must be extremely careful while leveling such charges against any one. Fake allegations should not be leveled against any Muslim or non-Muslim. The Chief Justice IHC, in the 15-page judgement, said no one has seen Rimsha burning any pages.

Another blasphemy case that triggered a mob of around 2,000 Muslims run riot the Joseph Colony of Christian community in Lahore was a cause of disgrace and remorse for the country and its leadership. The incident took place on 10 March 2013 when a row between two drunken, Muslim and Christian friends, set off the blasphemy allegations that later turned into a dishonorable event when the frenzied mob took the law in its hands on blasphemy accusation and torched more than 150 houses of poor Christians in the area.

What we are witnessing now has no precedence in the history of pre-Zia Pakistan and of the undivided India. The whole movement of separate homeland for the Muslims of India now appears to have lost its credence and direction. What Maulana Abul Kalam had said in his message is proving to be very relevant; “I fear it may happen that it may not be possible for you to save your own imaan.99” Do we want to continue proving him right or put a stop to it by taking another look at the facts provided in this report and decide what steps we need to take toput us back into the right direction? What’s the purpose of having laws when people are notmade to follow them? What is the purpose of repealing any law when people are allowed tomake their own law and implement it the way they like it

Please find the complete report here: