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Blasphemy law represents coercive nature of Pakistan towards minorities | The Economic Times


To much of the outside world, it is standing testimony to the country’s sanction of a state religion that is coercive at its best, and toxic at its worst.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int’l Desk
Source/Credit: The Economic Times
By The Financial Times | August 27, 2012

In Pakistan, the so-called ‘land of the pure’, where the state has long abdicated its responsibility to protect religious minorities, where every terrorist organisation operates under a religious garb, where the judiciary never challenges the jihadi, where the feudal class dominates politics, and where sanctity of the Constitution is for a few Army corps commanders to decide, one law has the distinction of 100% compliance.

It’s also one in which the very accusation is a potential death warrant for the accused: if not by the courts, then by an illiterate lynch mob. That law is the blasphemy law, Section 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Of the many ills brought on by the dictatorship of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the amendments the self-styled ‘Soldier of Islam’ made to Sections A, B and C of this law in the 1980s are noted for their pernicious effects on religious minorities. Section 295A was added to complement the law, providing for death penalty for blasphemy.

Ahmadis top the list of those most persecuted under this law (Section 298 is mostly Ahmadi community-specific), followed by Christians, Hindus and Shias.

This past week, on the day of Eid when Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf exhorted his countrymen to make Pakistan “a hub of peace”, a Christian family was rotting in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, even as the whole Christian community fled one of Islamabad’s poor areas in panic. An 11-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome had been accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an and the local crowd of ‘faithfuls’ won’t settle for anything less than “death to the blasphemer”. As happens in such cases, the word of a single witness, normally a passer-by, became the gospel of truth. Forget her mental disability, an 11-year-old being accused of blasphemy, like every other such case, is a telling comment on the brutalisation of society. And also about the state of law in Pakistan.

In fact, it’s so common that every month, someone is branded a ‘blasphemer’ on mere hearsay, and the ‘believers’ rip the person apart, stoning and beating. Reports speak about how the crowd enjoys every bit of the horror. Often, the neighbourhood and places of worship of the ‘other’ would be burnt and copies of their holy books disrespected (which made a Christian ghetto of Punjab, Shanti Nagar, world-famous).

No such atrocity ever gets seriously probed by the police, let alone punished. It’s an open secret that blasphemy cases are often instigated by either personal animosity or land grab. It’s very difficult to prove blasphemy, and the law itself leaves much room for misuse. Circumstantial evidence or a plain lie can pass muster as evidence.

Courts are mortally afraid of exonerating the accused, even if evidence is lacking, because the lynch mob gathered outside the court would kill the accused anyway (murder of Manzoor Masih, 1994), and even turn on the judge for his sacrilege (Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, 1997).

Till last year, politicians used to issue perfunctory statements about the cruelty and injustice bred by the law. Then, in the span of two months in early 2011, two high-profile assassinations – Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti – squelched the debate. Today, no one dares to speak publicly about reforming the law.

By: Rajiv Jayaram

To much of the outside world, it is standing testimony to the country’s sanction of a state religion that is coercive at its best, and toxic at its worst. The working of the law shows how a religion that claims to teach tolerance of other faiths and civilised behaviour towards fellow human beings can be reduced to fascism and spiritual fuel for the murderous jihadi.

Hardly a week passes in Pakistan without a glimpse of one or the other facet of this perversion. Yes, it’s downright repugnant to drag religion into a handful of misguided people’s acts of criminality and injustice. However, is there something amiss in today’s Pakistan that every mass murderer invokes the name of Islam to justify his crimes and live TV shows of Hindus converted into Islam becomes prime-time blockbuster spectacle? What about the intolerance of other faiths by ordinary, common men with no maximalist religious agenda, the ones who participate in the slaughter of the blasphemy accused? And the government, unprepared to counter this decline, the ‘hub of peace’ nonsense notwithstanding?

If the blasphemy case against the pre-teen Christian girl and the regular news of kidnapped young Hindu girls being forced marry Muslim men and then being converted to Islam represent coercion, the frenzied chants of ” kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (infidels, infidels, Shias are infidels)” that rented the air as a murderous jihadi gunned down 22 Shias on their way to Gilgit-Baltisan on August 16 – the video of that horrendous episode is available on YouTube – represent venom. Both coercion and venom, most unfortunately, are paraded as sacred to Islam rather than as blasphemy.

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