Muslims consist of an overwhelming 96 percent of the population in Pakistan. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often misused by Muslims to attack Christians and other religious minorities to settle personal issues. Something must be done to stop this injustice.
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The Pakistani government has finished drafting a bill to combat abuse of blasphemy laws to which three Christians in the past month alone have fallen prey, sources said.
In Nankana Sahib District of Punjab Province, a Muslim accused a 94-year-old Christian landowner of blaspheming Islam in retaliation for the landowner’s attempt to resolve a disagreement over profit-sharing on a cornfield. Chaudhry Habil Qaiser of Martinpur village on May 27 filed an application with the predominantly Christian area’s inter-faith harmony committee asserting that Maulvi Muhammad Bashir, who used to till his land, was spreading false rumors that he had blasphemed Islam.
“Despite my repeated calls to Bashir, he refused to come to my house and discuss the issue,” Qaiser told Morning Star News. “On May 25, Malik Ghulam Amjad, a Muslim from a neighboring village, told me on the telephone that Bashir was propagating that I had mocked Islamic tenets in his presence. This propaganda was disseminated in several Muslim-inhabited villages.”
Qaiser has spent all his life in the same village and is widely respected throughout the district, and the allegations of blasphemy fell on deaf ears. But Bashir then filed an application with Abdul Hameed Rehmani, local head of a group called Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuvat, or Protectors of Prophet’s Finality, stepping up fears that the Christian village could face a mob attack.
Police had information about the matter and were waiting for either of the two parties to approach them for intervention, said the district police chief of Nankana.
“Our intelligence sources reported that no one in the villages had taken notice of Bashir’s claims, and there was no imminent threat of an attack on the Christians,” the chief, Kamran Yousaf, told Morning Star News.
He said police were closely monitoring the situation and were ready to intervene if necessary, but that it was better that the village council deal with the accuser.
On Sunday (June 14), a 30-member council comprising Christians and Muslims and headed by the Islamist leader, Rehmani, gathered at a local church in the village, where they asked Bashir to repeat his allegations and present witnesses and evidence against Qaiser. Bashir admitted that he had no case and apologized for trying to turn a monetary dispute into a religious issue.
Pakistan’s internationally condemned blasphemy statutes also are used to punish people whose psychological challenges cast doubt on whether they could intentionally blaspheme, and if so whether they legally could be held responsible.
In the Mehmoodabad area of Mirpur Khas in Sindh Province, Christians earlier this month abandoned their homes to escape possible Islamic attacks after a young Christian man who is said to be mentally challenged, Yaqoob Bashir, allegedly told local Muslims he had burned a copy of the Koran.
A mob gathered and threatened to set him on fire. Police took Bashir into custody, which saved his life, sources said.
Bashir’s neighbors said the accused frequently visited a Muslim cleric who told him that reciting koranic verses would help in treating his mental condition. Bashir on June 4 reportedly approached the cleric and sought a copy of the Koran. He then allegedly burned the Koran at his home and buried the ashes.
A case against Bashir was registered in the Mehmoodabad Police Station, where Bashir is said to have confessed and sought forgiveness. Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes require intent to be proven for conviction.
Another Christian said to be mentally unstable, Humayun Faisal, was accused of desecrating the Koran a couple of weeks earlier in Lahore. Faisal was immediately taken into custody, and a case was registered against him under Section 295-B for desecrating the Koran, but that did not stop Muslim mobs from rampaging in the Dhoop Sari area of Lahore where Faisal lives, source said.
Police and paramilitary troops averted major losses by baton-charging the crowds to bring calm.
In light of frequent abuses, the federal government has finished drafting of a bill to forestall abuse of the blasphemy statutes. Proposed by the Interior Ministry and vetted by the Law Ministry, the bill aims to keep anyone from taking the law into their own hands. According to a report by the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, 52 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered since 1990.
The bill also metes out harsh penalties for those who have levelled false accusations of blasphemy, according to officials.
A report in the Express Tribune cited a senior official at the Interior Ministry as saying that procedural loopholes in Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C, blaspheming Muhammad, have been identified and some new clauses incorporated into the bill. Speaking ill of the prophet of Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan.
According to the official, the new law would make it necessary to prove not just intent but “bad intent,” or mens rea, for conviction. Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be considered intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offense.
European countries’ concern over the rising tide of abuse of the blasphemy law is said to be a primary reason for the new legislation.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently reported that abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens. At least 14 people are on death row, and 19 others are serving life sentences, on blasphemy charges. Investigations have revealed that the reasons for the accusations often stem from personal enmity, property disputes and religious hatred.
Muslims Demand Church Vacate or Face Blasphemy Charge
CBN shared that a Christian congregation in southern Pakistan has received a deadly ultimatum from local Muslim criminals: give up their church’s land or face a false accusation of blasphemy.
The threats against Jerusalem Church, a Pentecostal body of believers located in Karachi, began in May by Muslims infamous for their violent reputation.
“This church was constructed in the late ’90s and carries the membership of over 300 Christian families; however, the (criminals) are after it and want to grab the whole property to use it for their agendas,” John Nazareth Adil, a local social activist, told the International Christian Concern.
For Christians in Pakistan, blasphemy accusations, true or not, can be lethal.
Just last fall, a Christian couple near Lahore was beaten and burned alive after allegedly burning papers containing verses from the Koran. And in March 2013, an entire neighborhood was razed to the ground after a local believer was accused of blasphemy.
Despite the danger, the church is standing its ground.
“The Christians of the locality have responded in a brave manner and announced that they will die before they let them grab the church property,” ICC quoted Jerusalem Church Pastor Ilyas Masih.
Meanwhile, the international community is being urged to stand in the gap for Pakistan’s persecuted Christian community.
“We are not safe in our house, nor in the church, neither on the roads,” one church member said. “A Christian’s life, worship places, and properties have no weight; therefore, the international community must take notice of these cases and put pressure on the authorities to ensure the dignity, rights, and protection of Christians in this country.”
Islamic Clerics Fight to Keep Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws That Persecute Christians: ‘Those Who Insult Muhammad Deserve to Be Killed’
Asia News reports that 10 Muslim scholars and a former Pakistani judge gathered recently at a “seminar for protection of the prophet’s dignity” and expressed their concern over the proposed legislation that is attempting to add the word “intention” to the nation’s blasphemy law.
Speaking at the seminar was former Pakistani justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, who represents Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for referring to Pakistan’s blasphemy law as a “black law.” Akhtar bashed the proposed legislation and asserted that those who insult the Muslim prophet Muhammad deserve to be killed and “sent to hell.”
“The new bill rejects all sayings by the ‘holy prophet,'” Akhtar stated. “When it comes to the sanctity of the prophet, the implementation of all man-made laws become different. Those who insult him have no rights, including no right to live. There is no need for trial or hearings.”
Christian Massacre Prevented After Muslim Leaders Stand Up to Islamic Imams Inciting Mass Attack
A massacre of Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, was prevented back in May partly due to three Muslim leaders standing up against other Islamic imams inciting a mass attack on Christians for alleged blasphemy. A total of 22 Muslims have so far been arrested in the incident.
Christian lawyers in the region are speaking out about the incident, which occurred on May 24. A Christian man was accused of burning pages of the Quran, considered blasphemy and has led to mob attacks on Christians in a number of cases.
CP reported that Dominican Fr. James Channan, director of the “Peace Center” in Lahore said the actions of Haji Pir Shafiq and two other Muslim leaders helped to prevent what most likely could have been a Christian massacre.
Channan revealed that “two other Muslim leaders distinguished themselves for their intervention in favor of Christians”.
“The imam of the mosque in Lahore, Abdul Khabir Azad, having learned of the unrest, went immediately on the spot and stayed there until three in the morning, parleying with local Muslim leaders to stop any form of violence. Even Alama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, arrived at the scene to mediate. The two condemned any retaliation on innocent Christians, helping to restore calm. They acted for justice, giving a good example.”
He also relayed that often in Pakistan, when a Christian is accused of blasphemy, the entire Islamic community rises up against him or her, without waiting for the authorities to get involved.
Pervez Rafique, a Human rights activist and former minority member of parliament representing the Pakistan People’s Party in Punjab, told The Christian Post in an interview back in May that Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws will be hard to change, because of the government’s “strong relations” with Muslim extremists.
Rafique told CP that those presently in power in Pakistan are known for having a “pro Taliban, pro Islamic ideology.”
Urgency to set up a “special investigation team” for cases of blasphemy
Fides reports there is need to form a “Joint Investigation Team JIT”; to release Asia Bibi and all other defendants in prison on charges of blasphemy: is what the “Pakistan Christian Congress” (PCC) asks for, indicating the need for the investigation team to be made up of civilian and military members, judges and officials, that assess the truthfulness of the allegations.
As reported in a note sent to Fides, Nazir Bhatti, Secretary of the CPC said: “Groups of Islamic extremists in Pakistan are using blasphemy laws as a weapon against religious minorities in Pakistan. They have damaged the image of Pakistan at an international level, as a country that violates religious freedom and human rights because the government has failed to stop the abuse of the blasphemy law”.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children, was arrested on 19 June 2009 and sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy in November 2010. After the confirmation of the verdict by the Lahore High Court in 2014, she is currently awaiting the third degree trial, before the Supreme Court.
Recently the http://america.aljazeera.com website published a report on the case of Asia Bibi, making available on-line all the documentation related to the trial undergone by the woman at first instance and on appeal. The trial papers confirm that the process was marred by irregularities and it is apparent that the evidence of conviction of the defendant are dubious and contradictory.