All in the name of religion

The blasphemy law remains in place and continues to be misused. President Zardari seems to be the latest gladiator to take on the beast.

Aatekah Mir-khan August 14, 2010

Aristotle said, “The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual.” It’s a good thing that he did not live to see the way laws are made in Pakistan, set in place too frequently by individuals for selfish reasons.

Case in point: the blasphemy law

When General Ziaul Haq started tweaking the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in 1982, he introduced Section 295-B, which made desecrating the Holy Quran or making a derogatory remark about it punishable by life imprisonment. Unsatisfied with his contribution to the law, in 1984, he added Section 295-C. The clause added the death penalty to the list of prescribed punishments for “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet(pbuh)... either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly." In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) ruled that there could be no penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) other than death. If you add 298-A, B and C to the mix, we have what is fondly known as our blasphemy law.

The law has several flaws, the biggest perhaps that it does not stipulate the condition of mens rea which is one of the necessary elements of a crime. A close second is the fact that the concept of blasphemy is defined only with regard to Islam. No other religion practised in the state gets the same protection! Add to that the way the law has been applied. Amnesty International (AI), in one of its reports a few years ago, pointed out that most of the cases registered are “motivated not by the blasphemous actions of the accused, but by hostility towards members of minority communities, compounded by personal enmity, professional jealousy or economic rivalry.”


Two recent cases have highlighted the gravity of the situation. A Christian family was accused by their neighbour of blasphemy for using a plastic sheet with Quranic verses as a temporary roof for their toilet. The family went into hiding and though the neighbour later recanted, the family is still in hiding. Who can really blame them after what happened to the two Christian brothers who were accused of blasphemy in Faisalabad. They were shot dead as they were leaving the court.

The fact that the government cannot assure minority citizens even the security of life is shameful. The leaders often like to point out that there have been no executions. They fail, however, to say why they cannot prevent vigilante justice casualties.

More and more Muslims are now being booked under the blasphemy law, which lends credence to the observation that rivalry or enmity are often the driving forces behind allegations of blasphemy.

Attempts at changing the law have been in vain, both when Benazir Bhutto was pushed by AI in 1994 and when Pervez Musharraf tried to take on the mullah brigade. In 2009, our newest saviour, the Pakistan Supreme Court rejected an appeal challenging the FSC ruling. The then Deputy Attorney-General Tariq Mehmood, said that the petition was dismissed because the appellant did not pursue it.

Whatever the reasons, the law remains in place and continues to be misused. President Zardari seems to be the latest gladiator to take on the beast pointing out that it is being misused by extremist groups. Let’s see if cat’s nine lives end.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2010.

Aatekah Mir Khan A graduate of the London School of Economics and a Daniel Pearl fellow, the writer is a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune in Lahore.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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