PAKISTAN: Blasphemy Law, a Tool of Oppression 

The religious minorities especially the Christians in Pakistan are caught up in a serious situation where in their life, property, honor, freedom, and way of living is in danger. The State is seriously failing to protect their life and property. The wave of terror has been unleashed by those who sit in judgment on issues that relate to God only. They are the sole interpreters and arbiters in religious life. They impose their faith and doctrine on others. They refuse to listen to reason and logic. They claim rather declare that they have the truth and the only truth. And thus whosoever does not agree or adhere to that doctrine or faith is evil and their enemy and thus liable to be eliminated.

The state not only extends tacit support to such forces but in fact the support is institutionalized. It is reflected in the basic document of the state i.e., the constitution, the statute law and the administration, civil and military bureaucracy, law enforcing agencies and the judiciary as well as its decision is often subjected to religious affiliations.

The current wave of religious persecution against Christians rather minorities have been wild and treacherous. The religious minorities are being targeted on false accusation of blasphemy of Quran or Prophet of Islam. We have ample record that charge of blasphemy is used for punishing or ‘teaching lesson’, for settling personal scores, grabbing property and for religious persecution.

The Blasphemy Law is certainly unjust and oppressive. It is flawed being vague and ambiguous. It casts net wide open to rope in any one for offence under blasphemy law. The provisions of Section 295-B and C of Pakistan Penal Code have been ruthlessly used and abused on religious grounds by people for malafide objectives. Once you are charged for blasphemy you are doomed. No one will come to your help. The state actors would act just like onlookers. Your innocence would weigh little. The law courts and administration succumb to the pressure of religious zealots who either would kill you in police custody or in jail. We have witnessed and experienced that the religious fundamentalists take law in their own hands and come out to punish the alleged accused. They torch you to death and burn your houses with your life possessions and your worship places as well. The religious extremists lethally armed and trained have different political faces that are exposed when they keep silent over the devastation caused by them or are apologetic about them by just saying, ‘A Musalman cannot do such a treacherous act of killing or torching worship places.’ Many parliamentarians, advisors at federal and provincial level and of course the political-religious parties and the organizations including the banned outfits operating under their patronage loose no time in reacting whenever there is some voice against perpetrators of violence under the garb of accusations of alleged blasphemy. They at once issue statements that they would not accept any change whatsoever in the blasphemy law. It is a political position they take and not on account of religious feelings. They are very much aware that provisions relating to blasphemy laws were incorporated during military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq. This is a man made law introduced in 19682, 1986, 1989 and in 1991 by the Shariat Court that made death a mandatory punishment under section 295-C. Why cannot man made law be changed? The Pakistan parliament has often not only made amendments but repealed different statute law. The law on blasphemy was passed by handpicked members of Majlis e Shoora (parliament) of Gen. Ziaul Haq. This law was never debated in the parliament or discussed in the media or on public forums. The blasphemy law in Pakistan prejudices the process of polemics in socio-religious field as it invades the fundamental right of non-Muslim citizens to freely profess and practice their faith or religion. Therefore, its repeal would help restore society to days when we never heard cases of blasphemy against any religion as state of socio-religious tolerance prevailed.

The law is supposed to be enforced and administered by the courts of law. But in the case of accusation of blasphemy, the law stops to operate. The fundamental right that every citizen shall have equal protection of law and shall be accorded due process of law as enshrined in our constitution is completely defeated because the religious fundamentalists take law in their own hands and start administering punishment to such an accused without according him an opportunity of trial. They impose punishment by killing him publically or in jail and also torch their houses and worship places.
Therefore, the problem is much deeper than the Blasphemy Law.

The whole society has been made hostage at the hands of these religious extremist. These religious extremists are militarized and lethally armed and trained for total destruction and annihilation. They are spread all over, in different tiers of government and in our neighborhoods as well. Their net work is very strong and wide. The number of maddrassas and militia training centers are grown beyond proportions.

We have seen destruction and utter devastation and colossal loss of life in Northern areas and in the province of NWFP. We have seen people dying around us in our towns by heavens winning suicide bombers. The writ of the State has been openly challenged.

The State used the mighty institution of Armed Forces against religious militants to stop them marching towards Islamabad. There have been successes but the fact is that the writ of the state has not been established in those areas. The military operation was conducted in North-Western areas because the rulers felt that their seat of power was dwindling. The institution of military was at stake. Therefore the stake holders came forward to watch their interest. Fighting against religious extremism was not government’s principled stand but was a struggle for survival as they were coming up to their necks. The military operations may kill terrorist fighting in the name of religion or area under their control could recover but not the religious extremism.

I would like to emphasize that situation in Punjab is very grave as the reports are alarming. The South Punjab is being turned into an arsenal. The training Centers are at massive scale and are being built more. The government is silent onlooker. It appears that the arena is being shifted from Northern areas. The religious extremists now want to turn Punjab into Swat.

The current wave of terror is part of their scheme plan. They are using blasphemy allegations against religious minorities who are soft targets. These are planned operations. Their recent malicious move started in June 2009 from Bhamianwala, Kasur, about 35 km from Lahore, the metropolis of the province of Punjab. The houses were torched and people were severely beaten and women were dragged and shamed. The incidence created general scare within the community.

In Gojra seven innocent Christians were torched to death and about sixty houses were burnt. In Jethe Ke, Sialkot, church and houses were burnt. And later tragically they killed Robert Finash in jail. There have been other cases as well during this period wherein accusation was the same i.e., BLASPHEMY. Tahir Iqbal a Christian for whom I was acting as a defense counsel was also killed in jail. Manzur Masih was killed and his co-accused Salamat Masih and Inayat Masih were brutally injured after they left my office after court appearance. Naimat Masih was butchered before any formal case was lodged. Gul Masih and Ayub Masih for whom I served as defense counsel were sentenced to death but were acquitted by High Court and Supreme Court respectively. They were all accused of false charges of blasphemy. About hundred houses in Shanti Nagar were burnt by religious extremists. In Sangla Hill, Churches, schools, hostels and clinic and houses were torched. The accusation for these gory occurrences was alleged blasphemy. There are many more cases of torture and persecution on the accusation of blasphemy.

The blasphemy law now stands as a tool of oppression in hands of those who refuse to wait for the process of law. They are sitting in judgment and executing punishment to innocent people. This demonstrates that state structure is crumbling and there is no rule of law.

Ever since the inception of Blasphemy Law, the Pakistan society has faced bloody occurrences in the name of religion but its Christian population stood most marginalized as it suffered colossal loss of life and property at the hands of Muslim fanatic individuals, religious militias and religiously frenzied mob. The accused is publically dehumanized and demonized. The law does not help as the law enforcing agencies have either members who have sympathy for them or are scared to face the religious bogey that is highly militarized. The political forces remain mum as they feel shy to disturb their constituencies. As the rule of law fails, the concept of justice fades. This is a saturating point for a society when the writ of the state is compromised by those who are supposed to maintain and establish it.

Although a very humble and quiet citizenry, Christian community had much torture and killings in the past two decades but the recent wave of persecution against them has further put them at a very scary situation. They are not only afraid but a deep sense of humiliation and insecurity in their own mother land has gone down their spines. But let’s not forget that other minorities are no less vulnerable as Ahmedies, Hindus and Sikhs have also suffered tremendously at the hands of religious extremists.
In village Korian and Gojra town mob was charged with religious frenzy and the trained militia was used. On July 24, 2009, after a wedding party in a poor Christian community of Korian near Gojra town in district Toba Tek Singh of the province of Punjab, a rumor spread that three Christians tore a paper that had Quranic verses written on it. On 30th July the mosques were used for this nefarious operation pronouncing death to the Christians for desecrating Quran. Around three thousand strong of religiously frenzied mob spearheaded by armed religious zealots marched towards the Christian community demanding to hand over the alleged Christian blasphemers. None of those were witness to the alleged occurrence. They were not interested to verify about the veracity of the accusation. They had come out to punish the alleged blasphemers. The incitement for attack was publically made by the ‘Imams’ (worship leaders). The local administration did not deem proper to arrest such moves to take law in their own hands. Most of Christian residents fled from their houses out fear. Ironically enough, the ‘defenders’ of Islam ransacked the colony, looted valuables from the houses and burnt those.

As if last day’s damage caused to Christians was not enough. A general call to the defenders of faith was made on 31st July by local religious leaders who included political elements as well to assemble at a crossing known as ‘Malkanwala’ in Gojra on 1st August in order to punish the alleged blasphemers. The Muslim mob headed by trained and masked men attacked the Christian colony in Gojra setting about seventy houses on fire and torched to death six innocent Christians that included four women and one child. One died of injuries a few days later and another died of shock. Two churches were ransacked and desecrated. Nobody talked of blasphemy committed against holy books of minorities as if blasphemy only means desecrating holy Quran or Prophet of Islam.

After much cry amongst the Christian community and by rights organizations the government adopts a usual practice to announce paltry amounts of compensation for the loss of life and property but nothing is done to console or sooth the lacerated feelings and humiliation that was suffered by the victims. The administrative measures are adopted by the government to calm down the victims in the name of ‘conciliation’. In this process of ‘conciliation’ the victims are pressurized to enter into some compromise. The rule of law is not enforced and the offenders are not brought to justice.

Hardly a week had past of Gojra carnage that a Muslim leather factory owner along with his two workers were done to death in Muridke about thirty miles away from Lahore when a large number of defenders of faith attacked the factory on the accusation of desecrating of holy Quran. He pleaded innocence but none listened to him.

It is high time to refuse to be taken hostage in the hands of religious bigotry. We as citizens and a state cannot go along with such a grave situation. The rulers will have to show their political will to face religious extremists who have played havoc with our society. This issue of religious extremism poses serious threat to the State and of course the citizens. Apart from military operations the government has taken no serious step to eradicate the menace of extremism. All the laws based on religious sectarianism and discrimination must be abolished as those generate the baneful sentiment of religious prejudice and socio-religious intolerance. We have to revert back to the political position on which this state was built. The father of the nation in his historic presidential address to the first constituent assembly laid down democratic and pluralistic foundation of the new state of Pakistan wherein all citizens shall be equal irrespective of caste or creed. He categorically declared that “you may belong to any religion, cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. Therefore no politics should be allowed in the name of religion. The government should come out with an earnest resolve to build Pakistan on lines it was founded. The presidential address of August 11, 1947 of QaideAzam Mohammad Ali Jinnah should be massively published by the government and spread across the country. The media should be mobilized to join this move. The syllabi of all educational institutions within the state should be purged of sectarian and hate material at least to save the next generation from the scourge of extremism.

Contact: Ch.Naeem Shakir, Advocate, Supreme Court, Hassan Plaza, 1-Mozang Road, Lahore, Pakistan. Office; 92 42 37353309, C phone 92 3024074962 Email;


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Document Type : Forwarded Article
Document ID : AHRC-FAT-036-2009
Countries : Pakistan,
Campaigns : Blasphemy Law in Pakistan