More than murder, rape, treason, treachery and any other crime, blasphemy, even unproven, has serious repercussions for the accused in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) originally enacted in the year 1860, contained blasphemy provisions in it when it was promulgated. In fact, most of the Commonwealth countries whose laws are either promulgated by their colonial masters or who inspired their legislation from Britain have blasphemy laws in their legal system having maximum punishment of three years, though not applied so often as does in Pakistan.

The provisions on blasphemy that were originally codified in the PPC gave a generalized account of the crime. It neither singled out any religion nor did it give out a special status to any particular religion. The original provisions (section 295 and 295-A, inserted in PPC in 1927) had prescribed two years of imprisonment or fine or both.

But with General Zia’s takeover of the state, his overwhelming obsession to remain in the power by gaining the political support of right-wing forces made him Islamize the blasphemy laws. He twisted the character of the law from generalized to a specific one, ultimately leaving its earlier provisions i.e. Section 295 and 295-A almost redundant.

Blasphemy is such a sensitive issue in Pakistan that it cannot be publicly debated on any point of difference of opinion. The assassinations of Ex-Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, along with others, are permanent reminders of the risks involved even if one speaks about reforming the law for good.

The inclusion of section 295-B and 295-C in PPC punishable with imprisonment for life and death penalty respectively, comes without specifying the deriving source of the said provisions.

For a layperson the provisions inserted in PPC during the Zia era regarding blasphemy have the status of a divine law, but the argument loses the ground because the Qu’ran does not specifically dictate the punishment for blasphemy.

Though the Qur’an nowhere specifically mentions the punishment of blasphemy or who will award such punishment, but punishing an alleged blasphemer by means of public justice in Pakistan is not only largely accepted, it is also justified by the majority of religious clerics of all the sects and by people belonging to all spheres of life.

The inclusion of section 295-B and 295-C in PPC punishable with imprisonment for life and death penalty respectively, comes without specifying the deriving source of the said provisions. For Islamic law, the Qur’an and Hadith are the primary sources to derive from. The Qur’an as well as Hadith does not explicitly describe the punishment for blasphemy.

Islam as was preached by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his companions, religious scholars and their disciples taught peace, tolerance, harmony, coexistence and respect of others’ views. But now the so-called torchbearers of Islam have made it a religion of their own convenience. They change the interpretations as and when they feel the need.

The example of a lady throwing garbage in the way of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and many other instances tell that how much more tolerant, patient and forgiving the last Messenger of Allah was.

The events related to this incident mention a neighbor of the Prophet (PBUH) who tried her best to irritate Him by throwing garbage in His way every day. One day, when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) walked out of His house, there was no garbage. This made the Prophet (PBUH) inquire about the old woman and He came to know that she was sick. The Prophet (PBUH) went to visit her and offered any assistance she might need. The old woman was extremely humbled and at the same time ashamed of her actions in light of the concern and patience that the Prophet (PBUH) showed her.

The unfortunate practice of public justice in blasphemy cases strips off the alleged blasphemer the right to prove his innocence. It is often used to settle the property, debt and personal disputes. Sometimes it is even an effective tool in the business and professional rivalry.

Even an allegation of blasphemy in Pakistan is an indirect death warrant and the accused always carries the risk of getting killed any time without going through the due course of law.

Even an allegation of blasphemy in Pakistan is an indirect death warrant and the accused always carries the risk of getting killed any time without going through the due course of law. Usually in such cases, mob justice is orchestrated by igniting the public sentiment against a particular individual, group, sect, or religion which ends up with the killing of the alleged blasphemer, the torching of the properties and holy places of the other sect or religion. The courts may also award death penalty or life imprisonment — though very rare. If the accused is lucky to have enough monetary sources, then a lifelong and self imposed exile far away from Pakistan is the best option.

As per penal laws in Pakistan, blasphemy is not the only crime which prescribes the death penalty. Murder is also one of the crimes that is punished either with death or life sentence. But owing to the strong religious sentiment involved in issues of blasphemy which can be further exploited by numerous interests, it has a way stronger tendency to lead to the public or mob justice.

In past attempts were made to amend the law, but all went in vain given the sensitivity of the issue. Before the law could be amended or repealed, it is imperative to change the public mindset in a way that every accused — including an alleged blasphemer — is innocent until proven guilty. The growing trend of falsely implicating others in blasphemy for settling personal scores is still awaiting legislative redress. Just like a baseless allegation of rape is an offense, a false allegation of blasphemy needs to be followed by an equal punishment of the crime so alleged. Unless the mentality of the masses is reshaped, the alleged blasphemer will be condemned to death by public even if its punishment is reduced to two years only.

4 Responses

  1. Aamna Hassan Fasihi

    When Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salman Taseer, I was in Class 10th. I consulted my Islamiat teacher over the issue and she gave me a couple of references to a woman and another of a man, ordered to be punished by Prophet PBUH, after Fatah Makkah. My other friend on Facebook corrected me that those two people had other allegations also before being punished. I reconsulted my teacher and she told me that those two people were not punished according to the respective punishments inscribed in Quran, for those crimes.
    Also, when Ameer Hamza RA came to tell Prophet Mohammad PBUH that he had avenged Abu Jahal for him, Prophet PBUH said that it would have been ‘better if Hamza RA comes into the fold of Islam’. So, there’s a benefit of doubt for the veracity of blasphemy law because Prophet PBUH never categorically favored or denied it (Allah knows better).

    Now, coming to the misuse of this law. Indeed, alleging blasphemy only to satiate personal rivalries is condemnable but that shows the passiveness of the system and not the flaw in blasphemy law itself. Like, my Islamiat teacher would say that prostitutes also cover their face with a ‘naqab’. But that doesn’t make the Islamic teachings of ‘purdah’ despicable.
    Look around, there are a number of laws which aren’t implemented in Pakistan. The reason is not the flaws in those laws but ineffective prosecution.

    Dr. Rashid Rehman’s murder in broad daylight has caused this recent uproar. It has been emotionally brought up because it’s associated with religious extremism. I beg to differ. I mean take for instance, Ch. Zulfiqar was killed because he was on to something big in Benazir murder case, Kamran Faisal due to his probation in Rental power case and Maqbool Baqir of his adept investigation in Wali Babar’s case. There was no religious extremism in those cases, yet the bureaucrats and judge got killed. The reason is simply this stark and tiny reality; security lapse. The lawyers like Dr. Rashid Rehman, the accused of blasphemy or the ones hearing blasphemy cases aren’t on hit list because this law is flawed and incites extremism in the society. It’s simply because the killers enjoy zero accountability due to flaws in criminal justice system.

    About those who voice for amendments in this law, Salman Taseer had blatantly called this a black law. He didn’t propose any amendments and just sought fame through blabbering against this law. Javed Hashmi of PTI had last year proposed this law to be amended even just a bit. To the best of my knowledge, Hashmi sahab is alive and well. And he hasn’t faced abuses from the extremists’ lot as yet, either.

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    • Abdullah Nizamani

      First of all let me clarify that in what context I call it a law with flaw; that is the law is often quoted in the wraps of Islam. The religious forces call it a divine law and justify its derivation from Qur’an and Hadith. While I tried to find out the reference but failed to find one; reason is there neither there is any Hadith nor any verse in Qur’an whereby a blasphemer’s killing can be justified. My contention as to the flaw is confined to its being called a divine law. The misrepresentation of associating a law with Islam, which does not have any reference in Qur’an, is a flaw. I agree that the law may or may not have flaw but it is the psyche of the masses and flawed criminal justice system that lead to the intolerance. But the one can be easily incited to kill, in the name of Islam, anyone who is an alleged blasphemer, is an element that makes the law a flawed piece of legislation.

      As far as the killing of Rashid Rehman is concerned, he was threatened by fellow lawyers in open court. He was warned that either stop pursuing the case of an alleged blasphemer or get ready for the dire consequences. Apparently there was no motive behind his killing, except his firm stand for representing an alleged blasphemer.

      For the records, let me say after Salman Taseer Sherry Rehman was/is the most vocal critic of blasphemy law. She even moved bills in the National Assembly in the year 2009-10 calling for the repeal of the law. May she remain safe and protected. Not necessarily everyone would meet the fate of what Salman Taseer met.

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  2. Rana Kumbha (@RanaKumbha)

    As a democracy, there MUST be right question each and everything including God (Allah) or else it is not democracy but just a sham.
    I may not have any regards for Allah but still I have a right to live. Or else that society is a sham.

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