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Is there an end?

August 06, 2009

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Time and again religious minorities have demanded repeal of the Anti-blasphemy law often used to target minorities, but the government remains indifferent. -Photo by AFP
Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law, enacted by President General Zia-ul-Haq in1986 and later amended by the parliament in 2004, is one of the most stringent laws. The penalty includes a mandatory death sentence for defaming Prophet Mohammad and life imprisonment for desecrating the Holy Quran. According to official reports, to date, over 500 people have been charged for breaching the Blasphemy Law. Dawn.com traces the history of some of these cases that have been highlighted in the media since 1990.

2009 - August 05 An angry mob attacked the house of an elderly woman in District Sanghar, Sindh, accusing her of desecrating the Holy Quran. A case has not yet been registered but the District Bar Association assured the mob that if the woman - identified as Akhtari Malkani - is found guilty, she will be charged under the Blasphemy Law.
 
2009 - August 01 Seven people were burnt alive and 18 others injured in Gojra, District Toba Tek Singh in Punjab after fresh violence erupted in the town over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran three days ago. More than 50 houses were set on fire.

2009 - July 31 A mob burnt 75 houses of members of the Christian community over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in the village Azafi Abadi at Gojra-Faisalabad Road. Seventy-five houses and two churches were burnt by the residents of a neighbouring village.

2009 - February Five Ahmadis in Punjab's Layyah district were arrested on charges of writing blasphemous remarks in the toilets of Kot Sultan's Gulzar-e-Madina mosque. No evidence or witness was presented. They were just detained on a 'presumption of guilt,' stated the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

2009 - January 28 The Punjab police arrested a labourer and four students for blasphemy, all of whom were Ahmadis. They were accused of writing the name of Prophet Mohammed on the wall of a toilet in a Sunni mosque. Investigations into the case revealed that the accusation was baseless.

2008 - May The Punjab police jailed Robin Sardar, a Christian physician, upon an accusation of blasphemy from a Muslim street-vendor who wanted to set up his shop in front of Sardars clinic.

2008 - April 08 Jagdesh Kumar, a 27 year old Hindu worker, was beaten to death by fellow Muslim workers in his factory in Karachi on the charge of blasphemy. The incident took place in the presence of policemen. Some reports suggested that the victim was in love with a Muslim girl that angered the Muslim workers, who decided to teach him a lesson.

2008 - March 06 An elderly man, Altaf Hussain, was arrested for desecrating the Holy Quran in Kabir wala Town of Khanewal District in Punjab. The spokesman for the Ahmadiya community countered that the charges against the 80-year-old were false.

2007 - October 28 The police arrested Muhammad Imran of Faisalabad for allegedly setting the Holy Quran on fire. He was kept in a torture cell for three days and later in solitary confinement without anyone attending to his injuries. He was released in April 2009.

2007 - May 17 The nursing school at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad was shut down and seven Christian staff members suspended after female students of Jamia Hafsa protested over allegations that blasphemy had been committed at the school. Rumours spread that verses from the Quran posted on a wall had been defaced. School authorities denied all such claims.

2007 - April 13 Sattar Masih, a 29-year-old worker at a water pumping station in Kotri city of Sindh, was allegedly attacked by Muslim extremists for uttering blasphemous remarks. An imam of a local mosque, Maulvi Umer, announced some written papers against Prophet Mohammad were found outside the mosque authored by Sattar. Muslim worshipers attacked Masihs house and tried to kill him but the police arrived before that could happen. Masih was later arrested. Later, in January 2009, the accusation was declared baseless.

2007 - April 01 A case against Salamat Masih, 45, and four other Christians was filed for the desecration of Islamic posters and stickers containing the name of Allah, Prophet Mohammad and other Islamic verses in the Toba Tek Singh (Punjab) police station. The SHO allegedly converted the report into an FIR within 20 minutes without initiating any investigation. Subsequently, 80 young Muslims from the neighbourhood ransacked the houses of Christians in the colony.

2007 - January 22 Martha Bibi, a Christian woman from Kot Nanak Singh, District Kasur, was accused of making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad and defaming his sacred name.

2006 - September 21 Shahid Masih, 17, was jailed on suspicion of ripping book pages containing Quranic verses in Punjab.

2006 - June 03 Christians and Muslims in Pakistan condemned Dan Browns novel 'The Da Vinci Code' as blasphemous. The then Minister for Culture, Ghulam Jamal, banned the promotion of the movie.

2006 - May 24 A Christian, Qamar David, was arrested from Karachi for allegedly sending blasphemous messages to some Muslims via cell phone as revenge for attacks against churches by Muslims in Sukkur, Sindh, and Sangla Hill, Punjab, earlier that year.

2005 - December 23 Five members of the Mehdi Foundation International were arrested in Wapda Town, Lahore, for putting up posters of their leader Riaz Gohar Shahi showing him as 'Imam Mehdi'. The Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced each to five years of imprisonment under 295-A of PPC. Their prisoners' records posted outside the cell falsely indicate that they had been sentenced under 295-C - the Blasphemy Law.

2005 - November 12 After receiving frequent death threats, Parvez Aslam Chaudhry, a lawyer who defended many accused for blasphemy, was allegedly charged with flinging a burning matchstick on an Islamic school in the Sangla Hill stadium in Punjab which caught fire. Chaudhry was also physically assaulted outside Lahore High Court.

2005 - August 11 Judge Arshad Noor Khan of the Anti-Terrorist Court found Younus Shaikh guilty of defiling a copy of the Quran, and propagating religious hatred among society. Shaikh was convicted because he wrote a book 'Shaitan Maulvi' (Satanic Cleric) in which he mentioned stoning to death as a punishment for adultery was not mentioned in the Quran. The judge imposed a fine of Rs100, 000 rupees and sentenced him to lifetime imprisonment.

2003 - November 20 Anwar Masih, a Christian labourer and resident of Shahdara, Lahore, was charged for insulting the Prophet in front of his neighbour. Masih had converted from Islam to Christianity. He was acquitted by the Lahore High Court in December 2004. Later, in August 2007, he lost his job in a factory when his employer was threatened for employing a 'blasphemer'. Masih went into hiding.

2003 - July 09 A journalist in NWFP was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy. Munawar Mohsin, a sub-editor at the Frontier Post newspaper, was convicted of publishing a blasphemous letter in the editorial section that led to violent protests across the country.

2002 - July 18 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 registered with the Gawalmandi police. He was arrested on June 15, 2001, while distributing a pamphlet (Gospel of Jesus).

2002 - June 11 A 55-year-old Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yousaf Ali, convicted of blasphemy was shot dead in the Lahore prison. The murderer was another prisoner, Tariq Mota, a member the banned Sunni militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba. Ali had been sentenced to death for blasphemy on August 5, 2000, in a case filed by another militant group who disapproved of his religious views. Ali had been vocal in condemning religious extremism.

2000 - October Pakistani authorities charged Younus Shaikh, a teacher at a medical college in Islamabad, with blasphemy on account of remarks that students claimed he made during a lecture. The students alleged that Shaikh had said Prophet Mohammed's parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam existed. A judge ordered that Shaikh pay a fine of Rs100,000, and be hanged. In November 2003 he was acquitted after which he left Pakistan. 

1998 - May 6 Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph of Pakistan shot himself in the Sahiwal courthouse to highlight the case of Ayub Masih, a Christian sentenced to death for allegedly uttering blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammad. The death of the 66-year-old led to protests by Christians. Subsequently, the Lahore High Court ordered a stay of execution for Masih. His fate remains undecided.

1997 - October 19 Judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti was assassinated in his Lahore office after acquitting two people who were accused of blasphemy.

1996 - October 14 Ayub Masih, a Pakistani Christian bricklayer, was arrested for violation of Section 295-C. The complaint was filed by Masih's neighbour who claimed that Masih had invited them to accept Christianity and recommended that they read Salman Rushdies Satanic Verses. He later made legal history when his appeal against the death penalty was turned down by the High Court in 2002. 

1995 - July Catherine Shaheen, a teacher in Lahore, Punjab, was denied her salary on grounds of blasphemy. Since then she has been in hiding because of threats against her life made by some fundamentalists.

1993 - November 21 Riaz Ahmad, his son, and two nephews from the Ahmadi community were arrested in Mianwali District for their blasphemous remarks. The rivalry over Ahmads position as village headman was the real motivation for the complaint against him. The Sessions Court rejected the bail applications of the accused, however, the Supreme Court granted him bail in December 1997.

1993 - May Twelve-year-old Salamat Masih, Manzoor Masih, 37, and Rehmat Masih, 42, were charged with writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on the wall of a mosque in Ratta Dhotran village of district Gujranwala - where they lived. All the three were in fact illiterate and did not know how to write.

1993 - February Anwar Masih, a Christian from Samundri in Punjab, went to jail upon a Muslim shopkeepers allegation that, during an argument over money, Masih had insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

1992 - November Gul Masih, a Christian, was sentenced to death after having remarked to his Muslim neighbour in Punjab that he had read that 'Prophet Mohammed had 11 wives, including a minor.'

1992 - Bantu Masih, 80, and Mukhtar Masih, 50, were arrested on the allegation of committing blasphemy. Both died in the Lahore police station. Bantu Masih was stabbed eight times by a fundamentalist in the presence of policemen. He later succumbed to his injuries, whereas Mukhtar Masih was tortured to death in police custody.
 
1992 - January 06 Christian teacher Naimat Ahmar, 43, was butchered by a young member of a militant religious group, Farooq Ahmad, on the office premises of the District Education Officer in Faisalabad while on duty. Ahmad killed him because the deceased had reportedly used highly insulting remarks against Islam and Prophet Mohammed and by killing a blasphemer he had won his way into heaven. No case of blasphemy was registered against him nor was he tried by any court. Ahmar left behind a widow and four children.
 
1991 - December 10 Gul Masih of Faisalabad was charged for using sacrilegious language about the Prophet and his wives. The complainant, Sajjad Hussain, had a quarrel with him over repair of a street water tap. Masih was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court, Sargodha, on November 02, 1992. Years later he was acquitted but continued to receive death threats. He is now in Germany on asylum.
 
1991 - October 08 Chand Barkat, 28, a bangle stall holder in Karachi, was charged with blasphemy by another bangle vendor, Arif Hussain, because of professional jealousy. Hussain decided to teach Barkat a lesson by accusing him of using derogatory language against Prophet Mohammed and his mother. Barkat was charged under section 295-C of PPC, however, he was acquitted by the Sessions Court for want of evidence.
 
1990 - December 07 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 during tuitions. The sessions judge in July 1991 turned down his bail application after he learnt that Iqbal had converted to Christianity, which, he stated, was a cognisable offence. Later on July 21, 1992, before Iqbal's defence lawyer could appear in court, he was poisoned in police custody.