On June 27, 2016, a judge in the anti-terrorism court sentenced an older, highly-educated Christian man to death under the charges of blasphemy.
Anjum Naz Sindhu, 65, was the owner and principal of Locus Science, a private school for 20 years. Sindhu was respected by both Christians and Muslims (many of whom attended his school) and educated more than 20,000 students in the junior high and high school.
Among the large number of faculty members at the school was a local Christian named Javed Naz. After Sindhu dismissed Naz for leaking exam papers, Naz claimed to have an audio recording on his cell phone of a school program where he alleged that Sindhu blasphemed the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
Naz shared the alleged recording with Jaffer Ali, a Muslim friend of his. Together, they made a plan to blackmail Sindhu. At first, they demanded 20,000 rupees to keep quiet about the tape. In a panic, Sindhu paid the sum. A few short weeks later, the two demanded another sum – this time it was 50,000 rupees.
Realizing the extortions would be unending, Sindhu discussed the issue with local Christian leaders who advised him to take the matter to the police and level charges against Naz and Ali.
However, in Pakistan, blasphemy laws are frequently used as a way to persecute minorities. The investigating officer, Muhammad Shafique, a Muslim, decided that Sindhu must have committed blasphemy if he paid the money to his blackmailers to keep quiet.
Instead of leveling charges against Naz and Ali, Shafique himself made a blasphemy complaint against Sindhu. He also registered the same complaint against the blackmailers for keeping the “blasphemous” speech in their cell phones.
Without listening to the tape (that in itself would have been blasphemy), the court sentenced all three to death.
During the trial, Sindhu claimed that he hadn’t spoken any blasphemous words and that the blackmailers either fabricated the entire tape or added some words in their own voices. His lawyer requested that the tape be sent to a forensic lab to verify its authenticity.
However, due to the lack of sophisticated audio equipment available in Pakistan, the lab was unable to verify whether or not the tape actually contained Sindhu’s voice. This “detail” was also omitted in the court.
Although Sindhu’s lawyer is planning on appealing the verdict, the fact remains that, even if Sindhu is allowed to live, his life has been ruined. He has lost his school and his livelihood and his family has received death threats as well.
While testifying to his innocence, Asif Sindhu, one of Sindhu’s younger brothers, said that his brother had taught thousands of Muslim children of the area. Muslims respected him very much and he was highly respected in the entire area.
All of his children are highly educated, but because of the false blasphemy charges, the family no has no future in Pakistan. The stigma attached to them will not allow them to get settle anywhere in the country.
Blasphemy laws were introduced in 1985 by General Zia-ul-Haq, then the military ruler of the country. Since that time, close to 1,500 blasphemy cases have been registered against ethnic minorities. Several dozen people have been sentenced to death due to blasphemy charges.
Many have been killed extra-judicially by raging mobs.
Judges, lawyers, human rights activists, politicians and journalists have lost their lives for speaking against the blasphemy laws. In the previous Pakistan People’s Party Government, one of the senior female parliamentarians, Sherry Rahman tried to bring an amendment bill in the blasphemy laws but she herself was charged under the very law and was compelled to withdraw the bill. To save her life from mob murder, the president of Pakistan appointed her ambassador to the U.S.
In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a well-respected Christian who was the minister for minority affairs, was murdered in the capital after being vocal against the blasphemy laws.
Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab was assassinated by his own bodyguard for helping Asia Bibi, a victim of the blasphemy law. In a press conference, the governor called the blasphemy laws “black laws,” wording which itself was considered blasphemy.
Islamist clerics around the world expressed their admiration for Taseer’s killer as they believed he fulfilled his religious duty. When the government put the killer to death five years later, there were days of rioting in support of the killer who was called a martyr for upholding the honor of the prophet.
In the last month, four blasphemy cases were registered against Christians. No government minister is ready to touch the wording these laws for fear of losing his or her life.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan essentially give Muslims a license to kill. The necks of the country’s minorities always feel the warmth of their swords, never knowing when the blade will come down.
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]