LAHORE: At least 1,855 people have been accused under offences related to religion - mostly under Sections 295-B and C to 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, better known as the Blasphemy Laws, between 1987 and 2020.

The Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a minority rights organisation, claims that the highest number of blasphemy cases - 200 - was reported in 2020. Out of these at least 150 or 75 per cent of the accused were Muslims.

Among non-Muslims, Ahmadis accounted for 40 or 20 per cent of the total reported cases, Christians seven or 3.5 per cent and Hindus two or one per cent. The religious faith of one person remains unconfirmed.

The Center for Social Justice Executive Director Peter Jacob said that according to the data collected by his organisation, the trend of blasphemy reports revealed rampant misuse of blasphemy law, which had ‘increased exponentially’ over time.

“Initially, mostly non-Muslims were accused by the Muslims,” he says.” However, the trend has changed with Muslims bringing allegations against other Muslims. The faulty legislation is like Damocles’ sword hanging overhead. Anything can happen anytime,” he says.

Jacob added that since 1987, Punjab had experienced the highest ratio of abuse of the law - around 76 per cent, while Sindh was second-highest with 19 per cent.

The prisons in Punjab had 337 inmates in December 2020 who had been accused of blasphemy and were both under trial, and convicted. Lahore district jail had the highest number of 60.

At least 78 people had been killed extra-judicially after allegations related to blasphemy and apostasy, 42 of whom were Muslims, 23 Christians, nine Ahmadis, two Hindus, and two persons whose religious identity could not be ascertained.

Last year in July, the Punjab Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to make new or improve the existing laws so that blasphemers could be dealt with strictly, and also to set up a central system similar to that of Saudi Arabia, or filtration system to intercept blasphemous material on social media.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2021

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