Blas­phemy laws in Pak­istan Vi­o­la­tion of In­ter­na­tional Hu­man Rights

The Financial Daily - - NATIONAL - Hira Fatima

The Supreme Court of Pak­istan has given the ver­dict (Oc­to­ber 31st, 2018) of ac­quit­tal and im­me­di­ate re­lease of a poor Chris­tian woman, Asiya Bibi, mother of five, who was ac­cused of blas­phemy in 2009 on the ba­sis of lack of con­crete ev­i­dence against her. She was sen­tenced to death in 2010 on the charges of blas­phemy. Her only crime was that she had of­fered wa­ter to the male Mus­lim labour­ers in the farm fields. They re­fused tak­ing wa­ter from her hands be­cause she was a kafira. She protested and ex­plained the sanc­tity of her faith. Pak­istan has lost the pre­cious lives of the sit­ting Gov­er­nor of Pun­jab, Sal­man Taseer, and a sit­ting min­is­ter, Shah­baz Bhatti to the ex­trem­ists.

The coun­try­wide vi­o­lent protests and riots broke out, par­a­lyz­ing life in ma­jor cities.

My coun­try Pak­istan has been a hostage to a par­tic­u­lar ex­trem­ist mind­set for the past forty years. De­spite the fact that no re­li­gious party has ever been elected to the gov­ern­ment, these small ex­trem­ist groups have the ca­pac­ity to jeop­ar­dize the lives of mil­lions and dic­tate the State what­ever they want to.

1n 1979, Gen­eral Zia, a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor ini­ti­ated the process of Is­lamiza­tion of laws in Pak­istan. The Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan 1973 had been sus­pended and he was in­tro­duc­ing the laws un­der Pro­vi­sional Con­sti­tu­tional Or­der (PCO) of 1979. In 1987, Gen­eral Zia Is­lamized the blas­phemy laws, ini­tially in­cor­po­rated in In­dian Pe­nal Code of XLV of 1860 by the Bri­tish colo­nial regime in In­dia. Orig­i­nally, sec­tion 295 was pre­sented which was re­lated to de­stroy­ing, de­fil­ing and dam­ag­ing the places of wor­ship or any ob­ject that would amount to in­sult to ANY re­li­gion. The vi­o­la­tion of these laws was met with the sen­tence of two years of im­pris­on­ment or fine, or both. Sec­tion 295 reads: "Who­ever de­stroys, dam­ages or de­files any place of wor­ship, or any ob­ject held sa­cred by any class of per­sons with the in­ten­tion of thereby in­sult­ing the re­li­gion of any class of per­sons or with the knowl­edge that any class of per­sons is likely to con­sider such de­struc­tion, dam­age or de­file­ment as an in­sult to their re­li­gion, shall be pun­ished with im­pris­on­ment ... for a term which may ex­tend to two years, or with fine, or with both" (In­dian Pe­nal Code 1860).

In 1987, Gen­eral Zia added the fol­low­ing sec­tions in Pak­istan Pe­nal Code, 1860, to Is­lamize the al­ready ex­ist­ing blas­phemy laws: sec­tion 295 A, 295 B, 295 C, 298 A, 298 B, 298 C.

Sec­tion 295-C im­poses death penalty on those who use deroga­tory re­marks against Prophet Muham­mad PBUH. Sec­tion 298-C fur­ther crim­i­nal­izes Ahmedis for just prop­a­gat­ing their faith and claim­ing them­selves as Mus­lims.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the blas­phemy laws pro­tect all reli­gions, but the pub­lic in gen­eral and the au­thor­i­ties in­ter­pret these laws as only pro­tect­ing Is­lam.

In 2010, Pak­istan agreed to rat­ify In­ter­na­tional Covenant of Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights (ICCPR), 1966, in lieu of get­ting GSP plus sta­tus. At the time of rat­i­fi­ca­tion, Pak­istan was re­luc­tant to agree to var­i­ous pro­vi­sions of ICCPR in­clud­ing Ar­ti­cle 18 and 19 that pro­vide sturdy pro­tec­tions to the free­dom of re­li­gion and ex­pres­sion. In 2011, un­der huge pres­sure from in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Pak­istan with­drew most of its reser­va­tions to this Con­ven­tion in­clud­ing ar­ti­cle 18 and 19.

The Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan also guar­an­tees fun­da­men­tal rights to ALL the cit­i­zens of Pak­istan and these fun­da­men­tal rights are pro­tected un­der Ar­ti­cle 184 (3) and 199(1) of the con­sti­tu­tion.

These anti-blas­phemy laws are not only against the Ar­ti­cle 18 and 19 of ICCPR, 1966, but also go against, in prin­ci­ple, the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights (UDHR), 1948 and United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of All Forms of In­tol­er­ance and Dis­crim­i­na­tion based on the re­li­gion and be­lief pro­claimed by Gen­eral As­sem­bly in 1981.

These no­to­ri­ous blas­phemy laws have an ex­tremely dis­pro­por­tion­ate af­fects on the mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. Hardly any Mus­lim has ever been ac­cused or tried of blas­phemy charges in the court of law. There have been 702 cases regis­tered against mi­nori­ties, which equates to the 52% of the to­tal cases against 4% of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion (OHRC). These laws con­tinue to sus­tain an en­vi­ron­ment of in­tol­er­ance and dis­crim­i­na­tion in Pak­istan.

In 2012, a mi­nor girl, Rimsha Masih, suf­fer­ing from Down's syn­drome was ac­cused of blas­phemy (she was par­tic­u­larly ac­cused of burn­ing Holy Qu­ran - of which there was no proof). She was the first fe­male child to be the vic­tim of this law. Is­lam­abad High Court ac­quit­ted Rimsha on the grounds of ab­sence of con­crete ev­i­dence and lack of mens rea. Af­ter ac­quit­tal and re­lease, she could not live in her home­land just be­cause she feared her life in the hands of some re­li­gious fa­nat­ics. The State of Pak­istan could not pro­tect a mi­nor dif­fer­ently able girl and she had to mi­grate to Canada with her en­tire fam­ily.

Pak­istan's blas­phemy laws vi­o­late not only the in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights laws - most of the con­ven­tions to which Pak­istan is a sig­na­tory, but also the ba­sic in­junc­tions of Qu­ran and Sun­nah. Is­lam is the re­li­gion of peace and tol­er­ance. The lit­eral mean­ing of the word "Is­lam" is peace and safety. How can any­one com­mit vi­o­lence in the name of Al­lah and Prophet (PBUH) who, in his en­tire life­time, had al­ways for­gave his worst en­e­mies and fiendish abusers.

These no­to­ri­ous laws en­cour­age and pro­voke the gen­eral pub­lic to take law into their own hands that is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous to peace and se­cu­rity of the whole com­mu­nity. One im­por­tant point that is not high­lighted in this whole saga is that even un­der Sec­tion 295 (C) PPC, ONLY the State can take the cog­nizance of this of­fence. Mob vi­o­lence is it­self a crime against the State. Mob can­not de­cide the fate of any­one, let alone a blas­phe­mer.

The State of Pak­istan, in or­der to guar­an­tee equal pro­tec­tion and fun­da­men­tal rights to the mi­nori­ties, should re­form and amend the blas­phemy laws, so that they can­not be used against the in­no­cent peo­ple be­long­ing to any com­mu­nity. This coun­try would be a happy place if we all be­come more for­giv­ing and tol­er­ant. We have to build a more plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety, for all the beauty lies in di­ver­sity.

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