The law against blasphemy in Pakistan which dates back to the British Raj was first introduced in 1860 and subsequently amended in 1927

Killing of minorities in the name of justice against blasphemy is routine life in Pakistan while the law and the authorities have put a blindfold on their eyes. An opinion piece written by Zafar Sahito, an exiled political leader from Pakistan, takes accounts of various cases of murder and injustice to establish how Pakistan misuses its law against blasphemy to supress the minorities.

The opinion piece published in The Pioneer throws light on a more serious issue which is celebrating the death of people killed in the name of blasphemy. Sahito writes, “The ugliest part is that the murderer is hailed as a “ghazi” or “martyr” to the nation.”

According to the article, the law against blasphemy in Pakistan dates back to the British Raj. It was first introduced in 1860 and was subsequently amended in 1927.

In 1974, another amendment was made following the eruption of anti-Ahmadiyya riots which was demanded by the Islamic parties which came together under the banner of Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (movement for the protection of the finality of the Prophethood).

“Later in 1984, the Zia-Ul-Haq regime passed an anti-Ahmadiyya ordinance, which decreed that “Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslims” or “pose as Muslim”, and those who defied the law faced three years in prison,” Sahito writes.

Since then, the cases of extortion in the name of safety have been common in Pakistan, Sahito writes. Victims are asked to pay hefty amounts to mosques and madrassas to save their lives, business and properties, he says.

Sahito takes accounts of various victims to explain the gravity of the problem. A Hindu once told him his story and said, “Due to coronavirus, our temple is closed so I am performing my early morning prayers (bhajans) at home only.

One day my neighbour knocked at my door and threatened our family. ‘You Hindus should go to India and sing your bhajans there. If you want to live in Pakistan, live quietly, don’t chant Krishna nonsense early morning.’” On the contrary, it was his neighbour who listened to Indian songs loudly, he said. The man has been threatened several times to leave the society, he added.

Another incident which drew his attention was the 2009 Aasya Noreen case. Aasya Noreen alias Asia Bibi was a Pakistani Christian who was sentenced to death over a quarrel with a Muslim neighbour that too in the name of blasphemy. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer both were assassinated for advocating on behalf of Asia Bibi and opposing the blasphemy laws, the article said.

Luckily for her, she was acquitted in 2018 when the global pressure mounted on Pakistan after the case became known. She was acquitted on grounds that there was insufficient evidence. However, she was not released from custody citing safety concerns. A Muslim cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi announced a bounty of 500,000 Pakistani Rupees to anyone who would kill Asia Bibi, the report said. She had to finally leave the country and go to Canada to save her life.

Similarly, Mishal Khan, a student of mass communication of Abdul Wali Khan University, was killed in a gruesome manner over a post on social media saying that it was blasphemous. It was later found that the post just demanded secularism in the society.

Sahito, an exiled political leader from Sindh who is vice president of Jeay Sindh Thinkers Forum, also writes about the recent case of Tahir Naseem, an American shot dead inside a Pakistani Courtroom on July 29. The man was under trial for blasphemy.

“His murderer justified the killing, ‘A light appeared in my dream last night and ordered me to kill this enemy of Allah so that I can be awarded with the gift of heaven,” Sahito writes further.

The writer says he was threatened for his life in the US where he currently lives, “When I reported this case and announced a campaign on social media against the blasphemy laws, forced conversions and enforced disappearances in Pakistan and organised a protest at the Consulate General of Pakistan in Houston”.

According to the article, Blasphemy Law (Clause, 295C) of the Constitution of Pakistan reads,“Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”

It prescribes death penalty or life imprisonment along with a penalty to the convict however, the life imprisonment has become obsolete and what remains is the death penalty, he writes.

The law has been taken from the Holy Quran and Hadiths which are often misinterpreted by dominant groups to remain at the top in the power structure of the society.

Read the full report in The Pioneer