Everything you need to know about Pakistan’s blasphemy law

A Worrying Reality: Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law and Religious Violence

Everything you need to know about Pakistan’s blasphemy law

At the start of this week, Pakistan’s blasphemy law came under spotlight once more as a terrible incident unfolded in the country’s east. A Muslim mob set fire to Christian homes and properties, reigniting debate on this extremely sensitive subject. The event, in which two community members were accused of violating the Quran, exposed the troubling overuse of the blasphemy law.

On a recent Friday, Pakistani police arrested two Christians on charges of religious blasphemy, a grave accusation that has significant repercussions in a nation where unverified claims of insulting Islam and its Prophet Muhammad can lead to violence, often incited by vigilantes.

According to police reports, the incident occurred earlier in the week in Faisalabad’s industrial district of Jaranwala, where 146 individuals were apprehended following an attack on the local Christian community.

Critics of the blasphemy law contend that it is frequently abused, disproportionately affecting minority groups and even being exploited for personal or political gains, including those of Muslims themselves.

Understanding the Blasphemy Law

The legislation states that any disrespectful words, whether spoken, written, visually displayed, or gestured, that degrade the person of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), will result in either the death penalty or life imprisonment with a fine. This statute applies to both circumstances of imminent danger to one’s life and the conduct of an offense.

The law, which originated during the colonial period, remained mostly dormant until the 1980s, when it was reinforced as part of an effort to Islamize the state under General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan backed the law and urged on Muslim-majority countries to put pressure on Western governments to ban insults to the Prophet of Islam in 2021.

Religious Blasphemy-Related Violence

While there have been no executions under the blasphemy law, Pakistan has seen a worrisome pattern of violence in response to these claims. Many convictions are eventually overturned on appeal, but mob attacks have killed many people, often before their trials even begin.

Religious minorities, significant political figures, students, scholars, and people suffering from mental diseases are all victims of such violence. Aside from extrajudicial killings, people have been lynched, shot, hanged, or beaten to death, frequently before their blasphemy trials could even begin.

According to local media and researchers, at least 85 people have lost their lives due to allegations of blasphemy between 1990 and the present day. Judges presiding over blasphemy cases have reportedly faced threats to deliver verdicts without proper evidence, and some have been subjected to physical violence if they resist.

Challenges and Controversies

When violence erupts over blasphemy allegations, the local police have at times been criticized for either passively observing or even permitting mobs to carry out attacks. There’s a prevalent fear that denying permission for such attacks might lead to the police themselves being labeled as “blasphemous.”

Since 2011, when Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for advocating changes to the blasphemy laws, discussing the topic has become increasingly challenging. False allegations of blasphemy have often been employed as a means of silencing dissent, even involving senior political figures.

Are The Minorities at Risk

While most blasphemy accusations are directed at Muslims, religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly Christians who make up about 1.3% of the population, face elevated risks. Recent years have witnessed attacks and burnings of Christian communities in cities like Lahore, Gojra, Jaranwala, and even the capital, Islamabad, following blasphemy allegations.

Observers highlight that convictions often hinge on witness testimonies, which can be tainted by personal vendettas, leading to a cycle of revenge.

The intersection of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and religious violence remains a complex and concerning issue, raising questions about the misuse of this legislation and the protection of the rights and safety of minority communities.

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