MANY modern states, including France and England, have legislation making blasphemy punishable. The underlying idea is that an attack on religion is necessarily an attack on the state.
The blasphemy law codified in Pakistan in Chapter 15 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) containing section 295 B and C and 298 A, B and C impose a variety of penalties for different forms of blasphemy, including death penalty, for anyone found to have, by words or visible representation or by an imputation or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiled the name of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Similarly, anyone blamed as a blasphemer against the Quran would be awarded life imprisonment under section 295C of Pakistan Penal Code.
In 1982, President Zia-ul-Haq, introduced section 295B to the Pakistan Penal Code punishing “defiling the Holy Quran” with life imprisonment. In 1986, section 295C was introduced, mandating the death penalty for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).”
In 1990, the Federal Shariah Court ruled that the penalty should be mandatory death sentence, with no right to a reprieve or pardon. However, the blasphemy law is used sometimes against political adversaries or personal enemies, or by Muslim fundamentalists against religious minorities, or for personal revenge.
The Pakistani Catholic Bishop’s Justice and Peace Commission complained that from 1987 to 2014 over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy, mostly minorities. The vast majority of the accusations were lodged for desecration of the Holy Quran. Critics complain that the blasphemy law “is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas.”
At least 50 people accused of blasphemy were murdered before their respective trials were completed, and prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minorities minister, were assassinated. Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations.
Isn’t it time that the state and our intelligentsia revisited this issue in the interests of justice and fair play?
Muhammad Yasir Kayani
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2016