Blasphemy means irreverence towards God, religious people, religious books and other religious things. Most of the religions have also some punishments for blasphemy. These punishments are assigned in blasphemy laws. Different religions have different blasphemy laws. In the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, which is the authority for both the Jews and the Christians, it is stated as “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: (Book of Leviticus 24:16). Similarly in Manusmriti, the Law book of Hindus, it is stated “If a man born of a lower class intentionally bothers a priest, the king should punish him physically with various forms of corporal and capital punishment that make men shudder.” (Manusmriti 9:248). In Islam, the law is stated in the Holy Quran as ““The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;” (Surah Al-Maidah 5:33).
Despite of these religious laws for blasphemy, different muslim countries have different blasphemy laws. Some countries have made amendments in the blasphemy laws. Among these countries, one is Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Although Pakistan is a muslim majority state, the blasphemy law of Pakistan is different from other Islamic countries. Pakistan has blasphemy laws in constitution comprises on the articles 295-B, 295-C, 298-A, 298-B and 298-C. In article 295-B, it is mentioned “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life”. Article 295-C states that “ Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment of life and shall also be liable to fine.” . Article 298-A states that anyone who passes any offensive remarks about companions of Holy Prophet (PBUH), about wives or member of family of Holy Prophet (PBUH) should be punished with three years punishment, or should be fined or imposed both. The other two articles 298-B and 298-C are some specific groups like Ahmadis and Qadyanies. (Pakistan Penal Code)
In 1927, the British Government said that any deliberate and malicious act intended to infuriate religious feelings of any religious group by insulting its religious belief will be mentioned as crime act. The maximum punishment for breaking this law was 3 year imprisonment. In 1984, Ahmadies, a minority sect were banned from calling themselves muslims. In 1986, death penalty was introduced for those who pass any derogatory remarks against Muhammad (PBUH) and this amendment made Blasphemy Law of Pakistan the harshest in the world. In 1992, resolution was passed in parliament for the death penalty in blasphemy law. (PKPolitics Discuss Forum)
Pakistan is an Islamic state and it represents Islam. Islam is the religion of peace. As Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran “You who believe! Enter peace (Islam) totally. Do not follow in the footsteps of satan. He is an outright enemy to you.” (Surat al-Baqara). The blasphemy laws of Pakistan consist of six sections but the main concern are the two sections, 295-B and 295-C, because these are the laws with the strictest punishments of death and life imprisonment. Actually the blasphemy laws were made to protect Islam from any type of desecration and for the betterment of Pakistan, but it has been largely misused since 1986. Many people including important politicians and religious people have talked about the matter as the blasphemy laws should be revised or not. Although many people argue that any amendment in blasphemy laws will encourage unislamic practices in the country, these laws should be revised as they are poorly defined and thus it has become the weapon of hatred used by muslims against other muslims and minorities to intimidate and harass. The purpose of the amendment is not to abolish the law which is basically the perception of the religious people but to make the law in such a way that the frequent abuse of law should be avoided and to find a way forward for our society so that the persecution of the minorities and the innocent Muslims in the name of this law should be stopped.
Many critics say that amendments in blasphemy laws of Pakistan will not be tolerated. It is because they say that this encourage unislamic practices in the country. But the question arises have these unislamic practices decreased after the implementation of these new laws? The answer will be negative. It is because if we go through the statistical data of cases reported of blasphemy before the introduction of death penalty and life imprisonment, there is a great increase in the number of cases reported. Before 1986, when there was blasphemy law in Pakistan which was made by British Government, there were only 13 cases of blasphemy reported in the Pakistani courts. But after 1986, the year of introduction of death penalty in blasphemy laws, this number have reached 647.( Express Tribune) Why this number has increased in such a large proportion? Despite that people should be frighten of these tough laws and should be careful about these things, the number of blasphemy cases have increased. So the critics’ argument is not valid. Firstly it is that these laws are used in our country sentimentally not judicially. People when just only hear that somebody has passed derogatory remarks about our Holy Prophet (PBUH) or about Quran Majeed, they do not think anything about whether one has really said or done malicious things about Muhammad (PBUH) or Holy Quran and they just take harsh steps against those individuals.
The people do love Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Quran, and thus mad in love every one want to become Ghazi Illmudin Shaheed, and in the struggle of becoming Ghazi Illmudin, both innocents and criminals are pissed off. Ghazi Illmudin was a Pakistani muslim who killed Indian writer Raj Pal in 1929 for publishing a book “ Rangeela Rasool” which contained derogatory remarks about Muhammad (PBUH). When Ghazi killed him, he was declared hero by muslims and even by personalities like Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal.( Siasat.com) People go in sentiments and do not go for logical. Recently, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed by his own guard Mamtaz Qadri on Jan 4, 2011. He only talked about that the law need amendments because it is largely misused. Although, he himself did not pass any type of offensive remarks about Muhammad (SAW), he was killed because he said that the blasphemy laws are misused and should altered. Now this approach is wrong. He was right and the law is misused in the country. But that does not mean that Islam is so harsh that the one who only talk about the law should also be killed. And the interesting part is that millions of people represented Mamtaz Qadri as a hero. On Jan 4 2012, people were ready to give Rs 100 million for his gun and named it as “Hole Gun”. People threw flowers on him and lawyers were fighting with each other to fight his case without taking a penny from him.(Express Tribune) In the same way, minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a non-muslim minister was also killed in 2011. He also spoke for the same thing about blasphemy law. After the execution of Shahbaz Bhatti, the minorities really felt themselves unsafe in Pakistan.(Express Tribune)
Mainly the problem is not with blasphemy laws; the problem is with its judgment. How should it be investigated whether someone has really broken these blasphemy laws? This is the place which needs a lot of attention. Because without proper investigation; both innocents and criminals are pissed out. Sometimes criminals are not punished even he would have broke the law and sometimes innocents are punished who do not even know about blasphemy.
Country is already on a fragile turn and this violence would really push it over the edge if this is not controlled. The blasphemy laws needs to be reconsidered. The punishments that are given should be properly investigated and made with proof. Vague terms in the laws have caused these laws to be used for purposes other than their intended use. The long sentences in the laws give the leeway so that these laws can be used for other uses. The long sentence’s meanings can be changed to suite one’s purposes. These laws should be revised in the way so that the concept for justice is made clear. For example, these words have been used by people for their own purposes and to convict people in their innocence, to take revenge and for other purposes. The material evidence in these cases was not enough but the cases were won by the use of these sentences. This is against the clause that one is innocent until proven guilty.
The claims of the Pakistani officials which state that none of the prisoners or other people has died under these laws are also wrong. They fail to take in account the scores of people who are accused unfairly under these laws and then executed unofficially. Also, the killing of minorities who are accused is not also recorded by these officials. The wordings of these laws have been used to carry out injustices and have been used for purposes other than their original purpose. The real time when these laws would be considered is when a famous personality and specially those who are against the revision of these laws are accused under this law and then the wording of these laws would be brought under the attention of the parliament. It is not far away these wordings start being used in sectarian violence, when a shia would yell “blasphemy” against a sunni and a deobandi would use it against a berelvi. So this law actually becomes the source sectarianism as well.
Since 1986, Pakistan authorities have charged 647 people under offenses of blasphemy law. There are thousands of cases who have not been registered which were not reported in the court but are rather deal by police or by local people. The court or anyone cannot even ask about that why the law is taken by police or by other civilians in their own hands. If someone asks that it is the simplest reply that Islam also allows that anyone who breaks blasphemy law should be executed. While the law under Islam is that if someone is caught under offenses of blasphemy law should be tackled by the government or state. (Justice, Huminity, Self Esteem)
The second problem is that the criminal intent is not taken in account. The judge or others jury members do not find out why some individual has passed derogatory remarks about Holy Prophet (PBUH) or defiled The Holy Quran? Due to this reason as well the law is misused. Recently, Asia Noreen, a Pakistani Christian woman was accused for passing offensive remarks about Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) on June 2009. She was brought to the court of Sheikhupura. Later on judge Muhammad Naveed Iqbal sentenced her to death by hanging and charged her fine of $1100 additionally. This news spread in the whole world like fire in the jungle, and this was because if she would have died, she would have become the first women in Pakistan to be killed lawfully for blasphemy. The case was later on sent to Lahore high court. (DAWN)
Asia has spent one and half years in the jail and still the case is not finalized. When the investigation went forward, this result came in front that she did abusive language against Holy Prophet (PBUH) but after accidents. The story was that Asia worked at a farm hand with other muslim women. She then went to drink water from the pot belonging to muslim women. When she touched that, the other women started to abuse her and that you are “napak” means unclean, and why have you touched our equipment? They started to abuse her and later on the mater went on to such offensive level that she said offensive things about Holy Prophet (SAW). “Did she blaspheme Muhammad (SAW)?” If this was the mater, one cannot punish her because the criminal intent is not to heart the feeling of the muslims or to defame Holy Prophet (SAW), but this offense is done in sentimental way. It looks like that it was just a sentimental debate about each others religion and such debates are actually common. Whatever the situation was, the law is executed in an improper and an unjust way over the powerless people of the society and also hinders the freedom of speech in the society which is the basic right of an individual.
Under this scenario a large agreement was there that there are some problems with the applicability of the law. Therefore the law needs some amendments so that it can bring culprits under the prosecution and also to keep the balance of tolerance and freedom in the society intact.For this purpose on 30th November 2010 Jinnah institute arranged a seminar where the members of civil society, religious scholars, lawyers, NGO representatives and the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, gathered to discuss the amendments to the Blasphemy Laws in light of the recent case of Aasia Bibi and the blatant abuse of the legislation to persecute minorities. The whole purpose was to make the law in such a way that it should provide justice and protection to the people but not the persecution of the minorities. In this seminar a bill was submitted by Sherry Rehman, former federal minister, and President Jinnah Institute. The Bill seeks to amend the Blasphemy Laws, sections 295A-C and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCrP) as amended under General Zia. It is intended, that the Bill will ensure that all citizens of Pakistan have an equal right to constitutional protection and that miscarriages of justice in the name of Blasphemy are avoided at all costs. (Jinnah Institute)
Sherry Rehman, president of Jinnah Institute, stated in the conference regarding blasphemy laws:
“The law currently stands the definition of the term blasphemy is vague, yet it carries a mandatory death sentence under section 295C. The Amendment to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010 will not only rationalize the punishments prescribed for offences relating to religion provided under section 295-C and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code but ensure that the concept of criminal intent is taken into account when charging an individual with this offence. Other amendments include new sections (198E and 203A) to ensure that charges brought frivolously under the Blasphemy Laws will be punished. Similarly, advocating religious hatred will be penalized. Cases brought under these sections will be heard in the High Court to ensure more public scrutiny” (Let Us Build Pakistan)
Ali Dayan Hasan (Human Rights Watch and Board of Advisors Jinnah Institute) compared the ongoing persecution of minorities under the Blasphemy Laws to apartheid in South Africa. Dr Anis Haroon (Chair NCSW) also spoke in detail about this mater. Anis Haroon said that “We live in such an intolerant culture where mosques take over the role of the judiciary…any laws which take away the rights of any culture should be repealed.” (Let Us Build Pakistan) Asia’s case is an evident example of how innocent and powerless people can be unjustly charged and sentenced to death under the unfair execution of these laws. The important thing to note in this seminar was that all parts of the society were represented in it. In it civil society representatives, NGO’s representatives, minorities’ representatives, lawmakers and most importantly religious scholars were also present and they all agreed about the vagueness of the law and they also agreed that this law need to be amended.
The amendments in the judgment of the blasphemy laws should be done. All cases of blasphemy law under section 295-B and 295-C should be brought to high courts rather then Session Courts because in Session Courts the lawyers and jury members may have pressure from mobs. In High Courts, there will be no such cases and further more cases will be judged more thoroughly. Moreover High Courts are always under a higher degree of scrutiny.
It is the need of the day that Pakistan needs a new way to judge these laws to put off religious motivated discrimination. The new way of judgment of laws will be very different from that of present ones and will help in defending religious minorities equally with Muslims. Pakistan is amongst those countries which prohibit brutal and demeaning and unjustified punishments. Now it is the time we should honor the commitments of the Pakistan and stand up to stop radical purveyors’ f hate. As Pakistan is made In the name of Islam so we should respect and follow the laws of Islam but in the proper way. By proper use of laws we can tell to the world that Islam is the religion of peace and should show the real face of Islam to the World.
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