Ever since the introduction of stringent amendments in blasphemy laws under General Ziaul Haq’s rule, more people suffered from communal clashes than ever in the sub-continent. Since 1990 alone, fifty-two people have been extra-judicially murdered on charges of blasphemy.
The number of blasphemy-related incidents shot up during Zia’s rule, during which 80 cases were reported to the courts compared to only seven such cases reported during the British rule from 1851 to 1947.
This information was revealed in a report titled: ‘Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan; Historical Overview’ launched on Friday by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).
Ahmadis, it was found, after initially being declared a minority in 1974, have suffered the most as a result of blasphemy laws, which were changed by Ziaul Haq. However, those sentenced to death also included Muslim clerics, teenagers and old men, the report stated. Since 1987, more than 247 blasphemy cases were registered or raised, directly affecting the lives of some 435 people.
Speaking at the occasion of the launch of the report, Chairman of the Ulema Council of Pakistan, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said that Rimsha Masih’s was a test case for state and society in Pakistan to divorce its past of religious persecution.
Ashrafi alleged that the blasphemy laws were being abused by some powerful elements with religious and political backgrounds to achieve their own interests. Citing Rimsha’s case, he alleged that the accusation was aimed at forcing the Christian community to vacate the Mehrabadia area in order to create a religious seminary there.
Peter Jacob, executive secretary at the Church-run National Commission for Justice of Pakistan, said that there was an acute need to revisit and review the blasphemy laws in the country. The CRSS report said that among the 52 people extra-judicially murdered for being implicated in blasphemy charges, 25 were Muslims, 15 were Christians, five were Ahmadis, one was Buddhist and one was Hindu. Known blasphemy cases in Pakistan show that from 1953 to July 2012 there were 434 ‘offenders’ in Pakistan, among them 258 were Muslims,114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and four Hindus.
One case cited in the report was that of Hafiz-e-Quran Dr Sajjad Farooq, who was beaten to death by religious vigilantes in Gujranwala on false blasphemy charges in April 1995. Another case cited in the report was that of seven people who were burnt alive and 18 others injured in Gojra in 2009 over the alleged descecration of the Holy Quran by a Christian community member, the report said.
Some of the incidents of blasphemy recorded in the overall record included the design of a house of worship for Ahmadis, throwing a visiting card in the dust bin, a quote from the Holy Quran by a pastor, a child’s name, a spelling error and calling the law a ‘black law,’ said the report.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012.