An estimated number of 1,274 people have been charged under the stringent blasphemy laws of Pakistan between 1986, from when they were included in the Constitution by General Zia ul Haq, until 2010.
Pakistan’s Penal Code Section dates back to pre-partition India when it was introduced in 1860. Section 295, better known as the Blasphemy Law, deals with religious offences and was meant to prevent religious violence. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported.
Tahir Iqbal, a Christian convert from Islam and resident of Lahore, was accused of abusing Prophet Mohammad at the time of Azaan and imparting anti-Islamic education to children he tutored.
Iqbal was an engineer with the Pakistan Air Force before being paralysed and used a wheelchair. He lived near a mosque in Lahore and his change in religious affiliation had annoyed many. So much, that the local cleric accused him of abusing the Holy Prophet during azaan.
The case registered against him accused him of abusing the Holy Prophet, imparting anti-Islamic education to children who came to him for tuition and defiling the Holy Quran by underlining it with a green marker.
Iqbal was denied bail due to a misinterpretation of the PPC by a sessions court judge on the basis of his conversion and “since conversion from Islam into Christianity is itself a cognizable offence involving serious implications, hence I do not consider the petitioner entitled to the concession of bail at this stage."
However, the PPC does not recognise conversion as a recognisable offence. Even though his health condition had been certified by a medical officer, it did not have any affect on the court’s decision and he died in jail after allegedly being poisoned in July 1992.
Chand Barkat, 28, a bangle stall holder in Karachi, was accused of blasphemy by another bangle vendor, Arif Hussain, because of professional jealousy.
Barkat was denied bail for 15 months even though six Muslim witnesses had said in court that they had no proof he had committed blasphemy. He was finally acquitted in 1993 but had to go into hiding due to harassment by Muslim neighbours. According to reports, the accuser formed a group that wanted to kill Barkat after his acquittal which forced him to leave Karachi and go into hiding.
** Gul Masih, a eunuch from Faisalabad, was charged for using sacrilegious language about the Prophet and his wives. The complainant was Gul’s neighbor Sajjad Hussain who had a quarrel with him over the repair of a street water tap.
However, reports suggest that the two resolved the matter on the same day and the complaint was filed a few days later based on political motives. In an interview, Hussain denies that the matter had been resolved.
Gul and his brother Bashir were arrested on charges of blasphemy but Bashir was released due to lack of evidence against him and after villagers went to the police station to protest the innocence of the Masih family. In court, out of three eye witnesses, only the complainant accused Gul of blasphemy while the other two denied that they had heard or seen him do anything blasphemous.
Despite that, judge Talib Hussain Baloch sentenced him to death in 1992, making his case the first in Pakistan where the accused was put on death row. Baloch said in his judgement, “since Sajjad Hussain (the accuser) is a young man of 21, a student of B.A. and a true Muslim with a beard on his face and a good outlook, I find no reason to disbelieve him.”
Bashir was unable to find a job after this incident and reports say that Gul was tortured in prison. He was eventually acquitted but had to seek asylum in Germany.
Eighty-year-old philanthropist, Akhtar Hamid Khan, a Muslim, was arrested for allegedly committing blasphemy during an interview with an Indian journalist. Later, Khan was arrested again for blasphemy because he wrote a children’s poem that was interpreted as insulting the Prophet and his family.
Khan was a prominent social activist accredited with the Orangi Pilot Project and recipient of many international awards. He was first charged with blasphemy when a former employee, who had been fired, alleged that he had made blasphemous remarks in an interview. The only evidence for this was an inaudible audio recording, which was later declared unauthentic by the court.
Khan was accused of blasphemy for a second time when an Islamic cleric, Maulana Ehteramul Haq Thanvi said that a children’s story written by Khan was insulting Ali, the son-in-law of the Holy Prophet. The story, titled ‘Sher aur Ahmeq’, talks about a child who raises a lion. After he was charged, Khan clarified in an interview that the story was based on General Zia-ul-Haq and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
In 1992, both the cases against Khan were withdrawn on the federal government’s orders. Several Muslim clerics examined the evidence against him and concluded that he had not committed any sort of blasphemy.
** Naimat Ahmar, 43, was a Christian teacher in Faisalabad. Naimat’s collegaues, unhappy with his professional success, convinced a student, Farooq Ahmed, that Naimat had committed blasphemy and urged him to take the law into his own hands.
Ahmed believed Naimat had uttered insults against the Prophet and stabbed him to death. He was jailed for 14 years and was reportedly praised in prison for his act.
** During the same year Bantu Masih, 80, and Mukhtar Masih, 50, were arrested on the allegation of committing blasphemy. Bantu was stabbed eight times at a Lahore police station and at the hospital, the police reportedly convinced him not to file a case against his attacker in order to escape blasphemy charges. However, he succumbed to his injuries shortly. Mukhtar was tortured to death in police custody.
In February, Anwar Masih hailing from Samundri, Punjab was arrested for alleged blasphemy after a quarrel with a shopkeeper. Masih had converted to Islam twice before converting to Christianity again and the case against him was filed by Haji Mohammad Tayyab, a local leader of the Anjuman Sipah-e Sahaba (ASS), who had heard about the quarrel. Masih was accused of insulting Islam during an argument with Mohammad Aslam, a shopkeeper.
Salamat Masih and Manzoor Masih were completely illiterate but despite that all three were arrested in May. The imam of the mosque said that he had removed the writings on the wall because they were blasphemous.
Salamat was released on bail as he was a minor and Manzoor and Rehmat were realeased on bail in January 1994.
Manzoor was shot dead outside the District and Sessions Court after exiting a hearing in April. Salamat and Rehmat got injured but survived. In February 1995, Salamat and Rehmat were given the death sentenced but were later acquitted by the Lahore High Court, based on the objectionable material since Christians were not familiar with Arabic, they would not know how to write the name of Allah in Arabic. They subsequently fled the country after receiving death threats.
In 1997, Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti was assassinated in his chambers at Lahore High Court allegedly for defending Rehmat and Salamat Masih. In 1998, police arrested a man Sher Khan, who confessed to having killed the judge because he had acquitted Rehmat and Salamat Masih. However, Khan mysteriously disappeared from police custody.
** In November 1993, Riaz Ahmad, his son, and two nephews from the Ahmadi community were arrested in Mianwali District for their blasphemous remarks. In 1997, the Supreme Court granted bail to Ahmed, his son and nephews.
Hafiz Farooq Sajjad, a Muslim, was stoned to death after a Quran in his house caught fire. The local mosque announced that a Christian had burned the Quran and a mob gathered outside Sajjad’s house.
Sajjad was beaten by the mob after which the police came and took him into custody. However, the mob reached the police station and pelted Sajjad with stones, eventually setting him on fire. The police had fled for safety by this point.
In July of 1995, Catherine Shaheen, a teacher in Lahore, was denied her salary as she was accused of blasphemy. Although she was not formally charged, Shahaeen has been in hiding since then.
Ayub Masih, a brick layer, was arrested when his neighbours accused him of propagating Christianity and inviting people to read Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”.
A Muslim neighbour filed the charge against him saying that during a private conversation, Masih had said Christianity was better than Islam and praised Rushdie’s novel. According to Masih, he was falsely accused so his land could be taken away.
In 1997, the complainant shot at Masih outside a court in Sahiwal but no harm was done.
In 1998, Masih was sentenced to death but in April his sentencing was suspended after the suicide of Bishop John Joseph. Joseph committed suicide to protest against Masih’s sentence.
In 1999, he was attacked in jail by four other people sentenced to death but no action was taken against the attackers.
In 2002, Masih was acquitted after his lawyer argued that the charge was based on verbal testimony with no supporting evidence.
Younus Shaikh, a physician, was charged with blasphemy on account of remarks that students claimed he made during a lecture.
According to reports, during a lecture Shaikh said the Prophet Mohammad was not a Muslim until he was 40 years of age when he received the first message from God.
A judge ordered that Shaikh pay a fine of 100,000 rupees and be executed. Shaikh asked for a retrial and was acquitted in 2003 and fled to Europe for safety reasons.
A 55-year-old Muslim cleric, Muhammad Yousuf Ali, was allegedly shot dead by a member of Sipah-i-Sahaba in Lahore prison after being accused of committing blasphemy.
Ali had been vocal in condemning religious violence and the case against him was filed by a militant group who disagreed with his views. He had been sentenced to death in August 2000.
In July of the same year, additional sessions judge in Lahore imposed death penalty and a fine of Rs500, 000 on Anwar Kenneth, a former officer of the Fisheries Department, in a blasphemy case. He was found distributing a brochure titled Gospel of Jesus and claimed to be a prophet. Reports suggest that he was mentally unwell.
Samuel Masih, a Christian, was arrested for allegedly defiling a mosque by spitting on its wall.
While in police custody Masih contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Gulab Devi Chest Hospital for treatment. He was killed by a police officer, Faryad Ali, who was one of the guards escorting him. He used a hammer to kill him in the presence of other officers and claimed that it was his duty as a Muslim to kill Masih.
According to Masih’s family, they were informed of the death two days after it happened. Ali was arrested under formal murder charges.
** Police arrested Anwar Masih, a Christian and charged him under Section 295 after a neighbour reported to the police that Masih had insulted the Holy Prophet.
The case against him was registered by Naseer Ahmed who had converted from Christianity to Islam. There was reportedly some enmity between the two since before.
Masih was acquitted in 2004 and had to go into hiding.
** Munawar Mohsin, journalist from KPK working for Frontier Post, was sentenced to life imprisonment for writing an article on blasphemy which triggered nationwide protests.
He wrote a letter titled “Why Muslims hate Jews” which allegedly criticized Islam. The Frontier Post issued an apology but a case was registered against the journalist anyway. In addition to life imprisonment, Mohsin was also fined Rs 500,000.
In August 2005, an anti-terrorist court found Younus Sheikh guilty of disrespecting the Quran after he wrote a book ‘Shaitan Maulvi’ which mentioned that the concept of stoning to death after committing adultery does not exist in Islam. The judge imposed a fine of Rs 100, 000 rupees and sentenced him to lifetime imprisonment.
In November, Pervez Aslam Chaudhry — a lawyer known for defending alleged blasphemers — was allegedly charged with flinging a matchstick on an Islamic school and was assaulted outside the Lahore High Court. He had previously been threatened and assaulted also.
Qamar David was arrested after some Muslims claimed that they received blasphemous text messages from him. He was given a life imprisonment sentence in 2010 and passed away in jail in 2011 due to a cardiac arrest according to reports.
** In September, Shahid Masih was accused of tearing a book which contained Quranic verses. He was beaten by a police officer while in jail and acquitted in 2007 after no evidence was found against him.
Martha Bibi from the district of Kasur was accused of making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet. Reports suggest that the complaint was filed by contractors who did not want to pay her for materials they had bought from her. She was released on bail.
** Salamat Masih, aged 45, along with four other Christians was charged with blasphemy for desecrating posters featuring Allah’s name.
** In April, Sattar Masih, 28, was assaulted and sentenced for alleged blasphemy in Kotri city. He was arrested after a mob stormed his house but later in January 2009, the accusations were found baseless and he was released.
** In May, nursing school at PIMS was shut down and seven members of the staff suspended after students from Jamia Hafsa accused them of desecrating Islamic posters.
Muhammad Imran was arrested from Faisalabad for allegedly burning the Holy Quran. He was tortured for three days and later kept in solitary confinement.
An Ahmadi, Altaf Hussain, was arrested for alleged desecration of Holy Quran from Kabir Wala town of Khanewal.
** In April, Jagdesh Kumar, 25, was beaten to death by Muslim workers in a factory located in Karachi. He was accused of making blasphemous remarks.
Punjab police arrested a labourer along with four students belonging to Ahmaddiya community. They were accused of writing prophet’s name on walls a Sunni mosque’s washroom.
Two Christians, both elderly men from Faisalabad, Punjab, were acquitted by the Lahore High Court in April.
** Following the alleged desecration, an angry mob torched 75 houses owned by Christians. At least seven Christians were torched alive during the riots.
** In August of 2009, an angry mob broke into the house of an old woman in district Sanghar. She was accused of desecrating the Quran.
In July, the Lahore High Court ordered the release of 60-year-old Zaibun Nisa, a woman who was jailed in 1996 on a charge of blasphemy on a complaint that the Quran had been defiled because of the lack of evidence.
Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman arrested and sentenced to death by hanging on a charge of blasphemy. Asia was accused of committing blasphemy after an argument at the farm where she worked.
Asia is still in jail and the case has sparked international reactions.
In January 2011, Salman Taseer was assassinated by his bodyguard for voicing his opinion on blasphemy law and supporting Asia Bibi.
In March, Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minority affairs was assassinated.
** Shahid Nadeem, a school teacher in Faisalabad was accused of tearing up pages from Quran.
A mentally unstable man was torched alive for alleged blasphemy near Bahawalpur in July. The mob took the man from a police station where he was under custody on blasphemy charges after burning pages from the Quran.
** Rismha Masih was accused of blasphemy and arrested by the police from a village near Islamabad. Rimsha was arrested because she was allegedly burning pages from the Quran.
However, a cleric, Hafiz Mohammad Chishti was later arrested for framing her by planting pages from the Quran in her bag.
In March 2013, Rimsha was granted asylum in Canada and she left Pakistan with her family. Later in the year, the cleric who had accused her, Chishti, was cleared of blasphemy charges after a court did not find sufficient evidence against him.
A man was accused of blasphemy after he refused to join an anti-Islam film protest.
Haji Nasrullah, who owns a market at Hala Naka area off National Highway and is the chairman of a local shopkeepers association was booked after Kolachi Khan lodged a complain against him.
He had objected to closing his shop when in protest against the anti-Islam film.
A teenage Christian boy, Ryan Stanten, was accused of sending text messages which had blasphemous contents. After the texts were circulated, an angry mob set fire to his house. However, the family had already fled and the police stopped the protestors from causing further damage by registering a blasphemy case. The boy, who said he had forwarded the text messages without reading them, has been arrested and his mother has been fired from her job.
Arfa Iftikhar, a teacher was forced into hiding after being accused of blasphemy for giving a piece of homework which insulted Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The headmaster of the school, Asim Farooqi, was arrested on charges of blasphemy after which the school publicly announced it had nothing to do with the offending piece and fired Iftikhar.
After a trial spread over 14 months, Additional District and Sessions Judge Raja Pervez Akhtar jailed a blasphemy accused for 10 years and imposed a fine of Rs 200,000. Convict Ghulam Ali Asghar, a resident of Chinji village in Talagang tehsil, was booked on Nov 17, 2011, on a charge of blaspheming the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by misquoting a Hadith in Punjabi language.
Ghulam Ali Asghar was acquitted under 295-C, but imprisoned him for ten years under 295-A (which forbids outraging religious feelings). The convict will have to undergo an additional jail term of six months if he does not pay the fine.
A 35-year-old man detained in a lock-up in a Quran desecration case was beaten to death and his body was torched by a lynch mob who stormed the Rajo Deero police station.
Officials said over 1,000 people from Sita village and its surroundings attacked the police station at 8am to take out from the lock-up the man who had been handed over to the police some hours earlier by Memon Masjid area residents while accusing him of setting fire to the Quran.
The Supreme Court admitted a petition filed against Sherry Rehman on January 17, 2013 over allegedly committing blasphemy.
The petition against Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was filed by Faheem Akhtar Gill, a citizen of Multan.
Gill had requested to the court to register a case against Rehman for allegedly committing blasphemy.
The petition claims that Rehman had committed blasphemy while speaking on a news channel two years ago.
In November 2010, Rehman had submitted a bill to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy laws.
In February 2013, Multan police has registered a blasphemy case against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, a report published in the BBCUrdu said.
The case was registered on a complaint made by Faheem Gill, a citizen of Multan.
In his complaint, Gill has alleged that Rehman had committed blasphemy while speaking during a program aired on a private television channel on Nov 30, 2010.
It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy but the police was forced to register a case to placate the mob, a local police official said.
*Compiled by Tabinda Siddiqi/Dawn.comA comparison of the three Covid-19 waves presents some stark lessons of both success and failure.Along with the challenges of the vaccination drive, there is another one looming large.
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