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A crime unlike any other

Updated Jan 28, 2014 08:11am


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As a lawyer puts it, “No one ever takes up a blasphemy case for money; they only do it to uphold human rights.”
— File photo
As a lawyer puts it, “No one ever takes up a blasphemy case for money; they only do it to uphold human rights.” — File photo

Last week, a 65-year-old British man of Pakistani origin, Mohammad Asghar, who is said have a history of mental illness, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in Rawalpindi.

He had been arrested in 2010 after writing letters to several individuals in which he claimed to be a prophet.

An accusation of blasphemy — a term loosely applied to several offences that fall under Section 295 titled “Of offences relating to religion” in the Pakistan Penal Code — is fraught with risk at various levels; for the accused himself, his family, his lawyers, even the judge who grants him relief whether in the form of bail or acquittal.

“This is the only criminal offence – except perhaps treason – which when levelled, instantly stigmatises the accused and invites danger of violence,” says lawyer Faisal Siddiqi.

“That’s why it’s initiated in the first place; such an accusation makes it easy to mobilise people against the individual.”

In 2012, there were at least two cases in which mobs were instigated by exhortations of vigilante justice, over mosque loudspeakers in one instance, to attack police stations where two accused were present, and beat them to death.

As per the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in the first eight months of 2013, FIRs were registered against 19 people under Section 295. Among them are at least eight Muslims, six Ahmadis and two Christians.

According to HRCP’s 2012 report, 35 cases were registered that year for offences relating to religion. Of the 39 accused, 27 were Muslim, seven were Christian and five were Ahmadi, which means that while Muslims were the main target in terms of numbers, the ratio of non-Muslims far exceeds their representation in the country’s total population.

“When the blasphemy accused is Muslim, he alone will suffer,” says Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, lawyer and chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Alliance. “But when the accused is a member of a minority, the entire community suffers.

” To illustrate his point he cites the examples of the ransacking of Gojra and Joseph Colony.

Blasphemy laws were first instituted in pre-partition India by the British in 1860. They were expanded in 1927 in response to large-scale communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims at the time.

The intention was to control religious violence by criminalising behaviour likely to wound religious sensitivities and thus enable it to be dealt with through courts in a non-violent manner.

After amendments to the blasphemy laws by General Zia-ul-Haq between 1980 and 84, the situation began to change rapidly. “It was not anticipated that from the ’80s the state itself will become party to the law in pursuing cases,” says a lawyer.

According to a report by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), there were eight cases of blasphemy in the 40 years between ’47 and ’87. From 1987 until August 2012, a period of 25 years, 247 blasphemy cases have been filed, affecting nearly 330 people. And that may only be a partial picture: “A rough estimate of the persons that have been accused is more than 1,000…,” says the report.

Various factors have contributed to a climate of vigilante justice. As per the CRSS report, nearly 60 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered, either while they were under trial or after being acquitted.

There is also intimidation inside the courtroom from the complainant’s supporters. As a lawyer puts it, “No one ever takes up a blasphemy case for money; they only do it to uphold human rights.”

Moreover, judges are reluctant to grant bail in these cases. “They’re more likely to acquit rather than grant bail because they do not want to appear inclined to give interim relief to anyone accused of blasphemy,” says a lawyer.

This is despite the fact that many cases are triggered by personal disputes or a desire to take over property of the accused.

The risk of violence means that often, even after acquittal, anyone accused of blasphemy and his family cannot go back to where they lived before and must either put down roots elsewhere, often under assumed identities, or seek asylum abroad, as young Rimsha Masih was compelled to do recently.

In this country, there is clearly no respite for those once accused of blasphemy.


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Comments (50) Closed

hushdu Jan 28, 2014 10:10am

No respite for the convicted - and that should remain the case.

Hamid Jan 28, 2014 10:12am

The point of any law is to bring peace to a country and to its people. Apparently, this law does quite the opposite. It stirs up hate, discrimination and racism, and it paralyses the judges, who themselves are afraid of the law itself.

illawarrior Jan 28, 2014 10:44am

Is there a legal definition of what exactly, constitutes blasphemy? When a person of one religion says to a person of another religion, I don't believe your god exists? Is that blasphemy? When a muslim insults christianity, judaism, hinduism, buddhism etc - is that blasphemy? Or is it only blasphemy when islam is insulted?

Haider Ali Jan 28, 2014 10:44am

Sir, Our country was made for all Muslims (Pakistan ka matlab kya La ilaha iLLaLLah Muhammadur PBUH Rasulullah). Anyone who denounces our beloved Prophet (PBUH) is sanctioned the death penalty under our law. I am in support of the death penalty for all non-Muslims who abuse the Quran or our beloved Prophet (PBUH). Non Muslims and Christians can go back to India if they dont love and respect our Prophet (PBUH).

Samar Jan 28, 2014 01:37pm

If an unstable person is accused of claiming to be a prophet and sentenced to death in the name of religion then what should be the fate of those who destroy holy places and butcher innocent children everyday? Please note the first person's action were verbal and had no impact whatsoever on anyone's life.

Asif Jan 28, 2014 08:33pm

Why dont the educated and the couragious people in Pakistan raise theirvoices against this attrocity?

roxana Jan 28, 2014 08:40pm

sad situation for anyone wanting to be treated with justice in Pakistan......hey but what else is being done the right way in this country. we tolerate immoral and evil people as our leaders but do not tolerate diff of opinion. I question the moral authority of people who do not follow the prophet in the true sense ot the term but are willing to kill the possibley mentally ill individuals in the name of a crazy law....I am sure the prophet (SWA) is very happy with us!

Ahmed Khan Jan 28, 2014 09:29pm

@Haider Ali: The non-Muslims can say the same thing to you in their countries, i.e. India, U.S.A, etc. It would be a very difficult world to live in my friend.

jdshami Jan 28, 2014 09:44pm

@Haider Ali: I totally hundred percent agree with you, this is the truth

I believe in an understanding God. Jan 28, 2014 10:04pm

@Haider Ali: Allah(PBUH) did not make this laws. The Quran teaches of peace and understanding. Not about killing the sick and needing in our society. If u are strong in your faith, you don't need to fear the words of others.

I believe in an understanding God. Jan 28, 2014 10:12pm

@Haider Ali: Well. Murdering a mentally ill man in the name of God must be the worst abuse of the prophecies of the Quran imaginable. Be strong in your faith, and you will not fear the words of others.

Tariq Jan 28, 2014 10:50pm

This blasphemy law shows how narrow minded we are in the commity of civilized nations! Islam teaches peace, compassion, justice, patience, and treating each individuals life is as important as your own. How this law is used is blasphemous to Islam itself!.

NL Jan 28, 2014 11:24pm

@hushdu: When and where did our Prophet mentioned to go murder, convict or grudge others if they do not believe in Islam? He infact preached tolerance & peace, so why Mr. Hushdu and Mr. Haider you are distorting views of Islam??

Hello Jan 29, 2014 01:39am

@Haider Ali: God did not make this laws. The Quran teaches of peace and understanding. Not about killing the sick and needing in our society. If u are strong in your faith, you don't need to fear the words of others.

Karachi Wala Jan 29, 2014 01:53am

"Blasphemy laws were first instituted in pre-partition India by the British in 1860. They were expanded in 1927 in response to large-scale communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims at the time."

During British Raj Blasphemy laws perhaps made some sense but now these laws are nothing but nonsense. These should be completely abolished, once and for all. In Pakistan, Muslims are an overwhelming majority. None of the minority can dare upsetting this violent majority.

independentthinker Jan 29, 2014 03:43am

@Haider Ali: I am a Muslim and I want to tell you this - my prophet is not so insecure of himself, that if anyone says anything against him, he would want that person killed. We should continue to practice our religion the way we want to - and not worry about what others have to say. Our religion teaches us compassion and tolerance - too bad, people like yourself, who claim to be true Muslims don't practice it.

Civi varghese Jan 29, 2014 04:05am

@HaiderAli ,what would you say about the legal and illegal muslims in the west?

Sanjeev Jan 29, 2014 05:52am

@Haider Ali: Will you ask all Pakistani origin people who are staying in other countries to come back to Pakistan?. There are thousands of Pakistani origin people in Europe and USA.

Haroon Rooha Jan 29, 2014 08:04am

@Samar: Only in the name of religion so called intelligent sane rational self justifying people committ such henious acts and be proud of them.The govts declare holidays,masses garland them and there are seats is paradise for them r,eserved.Allmight well comes them..... if you can belive

Haroon Rooha Jan 29, 2014 08:09am

@Hamid: Modern laws are secular.Has to be just.Theocracy laws need to label/deal with others differently,otherwise they cannot claim superiority

Haroon Rooha Jan 29, 2014 08:14am

@hushdu: That is Religion..People should understand clearly,So that they will not dare to differ in thought,dress.language, culture ,diets,,must follow the crowd.Deviants should be labeld as...

Maznah Jan 29, 2014 08:22am

30 May 1431, poor, brave Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy. The Christians who killed this teenager were evil. 25 years later the church called her martyr. In 1920 she was made a Saint. The Christians have become civilised over time. Broad based education is essential to give a community scientific method of thinking. Polio vaccination is science based for example.

Syed Hassan Jan 29, 2014 09:21am

@Haider Ali: it is ignorant people like you that have led our beloved country to where it is today

Amjad Wyne Jan 29, 2014 09:32am

@Haider Ali: Haider, if you really loved our prophet, PBUH, as much as you imply then your views on minorities living in Pakistan would have been very different. My advice to you is to learn about the teachings of our prophet, PBUH, first and then stand up to protect his name.

omar Jan 29, 2014 10:01am

@Haider Ali: sabse pehle tere jaise haramzaadon ko death penalty milna chahiya, Pakistan ke kitnay bashinday dusray mulko (US,UK,India) may rah rahe hain unka kya hoga?

Vijai Murugan Jan 29, 2014 10:07am

@Haider Ali: Great my friend. Pl. take 180 million muslims from India to your country and we will ake back all Hindus, sikhs and christians.

Nauman Jan 29, 2014 11:53am

Would not it be better of some scholar to preach him and guide him that what is wrong and what is right. This will portray a better image of Islam rather than killing ignorant people.

irfan khan Jan 29, 2014 12:49pm

I dont understand why every british citizen who is held or sentenced in third world country turns out to be sunstable and/or innocent. Sometimes the argument is that he/she was not awear of the law or cultural sensitivities etc etc. However, if a foreginer is caught not wearing a seat belt, even in the rear seat or gets a parking ticket, will be fine straight away even if he/she is completely unaware of the law. I say this of personal experience.

Zafar Jan 29, 2014 01:30pm

if a person has done blasphemy he should be punished. this is simple. no ifs and buts. this is the law and this should be followed properly. Haider Ali i agree with your views. when the muslims object to western laws they say leave our countries then. so same way non muslims including qadianis should leave pakistan if they dont want to follow the law. but then who would accept them thats also an issue otherwise they would have left already. those non muslims who want to lead life within the laws of pakistan and are against doing blasphemy are welcome here and i respect i know many like that.. not the other hypocrates who want to abuse islam and also want rights here.

Anoop Mohan Jan 29, 2014 03:01pm

@Haider Ali: Non muslims and christians have been living in Pakistan even b4 the birth of Islam. So by your own argument, you and all the muslims should go back to Saudi Arabia.

A Democrat Jan 29, 2014 06:55pm

@Zafar: Brilliant...seems like you want to treat non-muslim pakistanis as second class citizens in their own country. Well done!!!

Syed Hasan Jan 29, 2014 06:58pm

@Haider Ali and @Zafar it is bigots and hypocrates like the 2 of you that make me sick and sad for our once great country. It is people like you that need to leave to some deserted island in the middle of nowhere where the 2 of you can happily persecute each other. Only then will we progress and not regress

Sadia Zafar Jan 29, 2014 08:11pm

I am appalled not as much by the atrocious law but by the total and utter insanity of the comments to the article. How dare someone tells the minorities to leave Pakistan. They are as much the inheritors of this land as anybody else except for Syeds who obviously are descendants of immigrants. I will be happy to see them go back to their Arab world. This is the land of Indus valley civilization if any one has a problem with that they are welcome to leave. Can you even imagine the hypocrisy. I ferociously support for the right of return for Palestinians, and Pakistanis have the belligerence to tell our our own brethren to leave. SHAMEFUL!

pathanoo Jan 29, 2014 11:01pm

Irrespective of the law and neither defending nor attacking it; may I ask a question? What right does any one has to punish or take a life of a person who disrespects your deity or religion? Second question. Is your deity or religion so fragile that it needs defending from some misguided person who speaks ill of it? Will your deity or religion be destroyed if some one insulted it? If the answer is -YES. Then you have my sympathy. If the answer is - NO. Then eliminate this law which is mostly misused to settle scores. I am a Christian and l love my faith and the Lord Jesus as much as the Muslims love theirs. Now, if some one said bad things about Christianity or my Lord Jesus; I will not like it. But would I attack him physically or stand by if some one else did - NO WAY. Would I support a law that punishes this person - NO WAY. Some misguided person saying bad things does not make it true. I am secure in the validity of my religion and what it teaches me and strong in my faith. I don't need laws to protect either. The most important thing a religion teaches, or must teach, is forgiveness and compassion. I am quite sure that my comment will not be published but I put it down any way. No intention of hurting any one's sentiments but to use some commonsense logic and ask the questions.

pathanoo Jan 29, 2014 11:04pm

@Zafar: And Jesus said," If they hit you in one cheek offer them the other as well." He also said," If a thief takes your coat, offer him your shirt as well."

Haider Ali Jan 29, 2014 11:37pm

@Ahmed Khan, Vijai Murugan : There is a difference. Yours is a secular country and ours is an Islamic country. If you declare yourself as a Christian or Hindu country, I will agree with you. Once we have decided to be Islamic, everyone has to follow Islamic customs and laws. Such is the nature of a country based on religion. Take it or leave it.

Manu Jan 30, 2014 12:07am

@Haider Ali: Dear Haider, I want your opinion on this true incident: There used to be this very simple, God fearing Muslim family. Very religious. The young husband was a good person and cared for his parents and family. He had a baby boy- around 1yr old, and one day the little one crawled around the house and went and dirtied the Holy Quran kept near the floor.

Would you advice killing the child? Or his parents?

brmurr Jan 30, 2014 02:52am

I am offended by this artists' painting at the top of this article.

Amir Jan 30, 2014 07:35am

@hushdu: I wonder if people like you know what "paranoid schizophrenia" means. You should educate yourself before passing judgement on somneone.

Addy Jan 30, 2014 08:05am

Perfect microcosm of the current situation in Pakistan: just as a single idiot (Haider Ali) can dominate the conversation in this forum, religious parties barely register at the vote but take over the high ground in all social intercourse.

Roxana R Jan 30, 2014 02:40pm

@Haider Ali: So, by your logic, if someone says Jesus was not the son of God, he should be put to death for blasphemy? Your logic is non-existent. The definition of blasphemy is an opinion. No one should ever die based upon arguing an opinion.

okhan Jan 30, 2014 10:20pm

@Haider Ali: As Salam Alakum Br Ali, Do you know what our beloved prophet did when garbage was thrown on him by an old lady every day, when people called him names? He talked back to them with respect love & care. That is how he was able to spread the message of Allah.

Read the Quran, Hadith & the Islamic history before supporting blasphemy which has no basis in Islam.

In my humble opinion wouldn

roxana Jan 31, 2014 12:33am

@Haider Ali: Islamic country????really. what else is islamic in this country?

Respect Humanity Jan 31, 2014 12:36am

@Syed Hasan: Agreed these people must leave...we donot need such extremists

Respect Humanity Jan 31, 2014 12:55am

Why are we all burning our energies for the people like Haider Ali and Zafar?????These extremists will be killed by their very own islamic extremists brothers either in a bomb blast or a suicide bombing..Its a country of its own example where 1000s Muslims get killed by their Muslim Brothers...But on a Positive note we can see a new wave of respect,tolerance and love for everyone in our country..Thats the basic teaching of our religion.

Mohsin Jan 31, 2014 12:52pm

@Haider Ali: Such an insane lunatic u are. Pakistan by no means was carved to give un-due rights to muslims and discard all others having different backgrounds. Knowing how our judical system & authorities operate and civilians react, its immature of u to support this law by any means. Having proved to have had dire consequences upon all those innocent affectees (which are in majority in believe), you need to go back and re-eveluate ur opinion over & over again until u conclude as a true un-biased believer of Prophet PBUH.

May Allah bless u with guidance & enlight u with peace loving heart

Muhibullah Jan 31, 2014 03:22pm

@Addy: You're delusional. Religious parties not getting votes means nothing like Mr. Taseer found out some years ago.

Muhibullah Jan 31, 2014 03:33pm

The main reason for vigilante action is that when a person commits blasphemy, the whole western upper-class establishment comes into action to defend them. The government tries hard that the case is not registered at all. If the case is registered, they seek some way to send the accused off to the protection of the west. Committing blasphemy has now become an easy way for the Pakistani Christians to get an american visa. The Pakistani government has not yet carried out even a single execution of a blasphemer. There are people in jails who blasphemed repeatedly, even during interviews with BBC radio, but they are still in jail sending out appeal after appeal for their sentences. The government and the judiciary are to afraid of the west to sentence them and carry out the punishment.

Muhibullah Jan 31, 2014 03:37pm

@Roxana R: People of other societies can institute whatever laws they want in their society. Muslims have the right to order their societies the way they want.

El Cid Jan 31, 2014 06:46pm

@independentthinker: "I am a Muslim and I want to tell you this - my prophet is not so insecure of himself, that if anyone says anything against him, he would want that person killed."

Let this be clear to you and all Muslims. It is NOT about MuhammadPBUM. It is about the Muslim heart being lacerated, the Muslim soul that is being barbed. Our Prophet is above all this and Allah is Almighty...yet the Muslim is wounded, bleeds in this War on Islam.

International ThinkTanks have concluded that throwing poison darts on Muhammad is sure to pain the Muslim heart, confuse his mind, blur his thoughts...make him angry, irrational, irresolute, undisciplined, weak, vulnerable: Muhammad's Perfection stands in the way of all this and has to be blemished in the Muslims' psyche if this War on Islam is to be won.

Muslims must understand the strategy, the target, and the weapon directed at them...