Asia Bibi, a Christian woman has suffered in prisons of Pakistan since 2010, when she was allegedly involved in the blasphemy case over a small incident of drinking water from the same pot as her Muslim co-workers. After an argument with Bibi, the Muslim women claimed that she denigrated the prophet of Islam.
A case was registered against her by a Muslim cleric who was not present when the altercation happened between Bibi and her co-workers. However, without much ado, the cleric believed the Muslim complainants. Pressure from fundamentalist Muslims compelled the police to register the blasphemy case against Bibi under the article 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
She was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death sentence. The conviction was later upheld by the Lahore High Court.
In 2014, Bibi’s lawyers petitioned in the Supreme Court, which admitted her appeal and ordered the suspension of her death sentence. The court also ordered both sides to bring the complete record of the case to the court. Since that time, there has been no development in the case.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan and Bibi’s case are tied together, both on a national and International level. Because of Bibi (and a number of other high-profile blasphemy cases), this is the only law in the constitution of Pakistan that is known to the world.
Time and again, brave forces try to amend the blasphemy law, but in Pakistan, it is considered a “sacred manuscript,” something not to be touched or talked even about. Those who dared paid a heavy price.
Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and a federal minister, who struggled to amend the law, was brutally murdered in Islamabad. Salmaan Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, tried to help Bibi, demanding changes in the law. He was assassinated by his own fanatic guard, who afterward was given death sentence (and hanged on February 29, 2016) amid tremendous and continued protest.
The damage done by the misuse of the blasphemy laws is beyond understanding. The truth of the matter is that blasphemy laws are considered dangerous not only in Pakistan but around the world. One may easily understand that in the name of the sanctity of religions, the very law was frequently misused, many a time in an organized way, leaving an adverse effect on thepublic.
Ethnic minorities remain under the worst societal pressures, which have served to crippled them socially, morally, economically and religiously. The massive pressure of this law has crossed all limits of societal atrocities.
Laws are made for the protection of citizens; they should not be a license to persecute and kill the marginalized sections of society. Beyond doubt, the misuse of blasphemy laws has had debilitating effects on the Pakistani society.
Before the inclusion of these laws in the constitution of Pakistan, there were few examples of individuals involved in desecrating any religion, but after 1986, around 1,400 cases have been registered under this law. Interestingly, there is not a single example where courts convicted someone as a blasphemer and the person was hanged.
It is certainly appalling to listen to the many people who claim that the majority of the cases were registered against the majority community. The truth is bitter but cannot be denied. The overall calculation of blasphemy convictions shows that about 50 percent of cases were registered against ethnic minorities, who make only three percent of the total population.
There are several examples of the misuse of this law: in 1996, a Christian man, Ayub Masih, was jailed for the violation of 295C when the complainant, Muhammad Akram, claimed that Masih “blasphemed” by recommending him to read Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. All lower courts and the high court convicted Mashih, but the Supreme Court found the case to be fabricated. The only reason the charges were made was to grab Masih’s property.
Dr. Muhammad Younas Sheikh was charged under the blasphemy law in 2000; he was acquitted, and afterward he fled to Switzerland, never to return to his homeland. Sheikh was originally arrested for writing a book, Shaitan Maulvi, and was given life imprisonment.
Hector Aleem, a Christian human rights activist, was charged under the law in 2009. In July 2009, two Christian brothers were charged under the law in Faisalabad. 2011 saw Asia Bib’s arrest. In 2011, Bhatti was murdered. Earlier that year, Taseer was also murdered. In 2014, a Christian man, Sawan Masih, was given the death sentence due to the law by a lower court; Masih was involved in a case during the Joseph Colony incident where 300 dwellings of poor Christians were destroyed by a frenzied Muslim mob.
There are several incidents that remain unnoticed by the world. It is unfortunate that after such a long list of brutalities in the name of blasphemy laws, no government is ready to take steps for re-visiting these laws.
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at [email protected]