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PAKISTAN: Statistics about victims of blasphemy laws (1987-2021)

Statistics about victims of blasphemy laws (1987-2021)

Presentation by lawyer Akmal Bhatti, director of the Minorities Association of Pakistan (MAP)

To the press conference “Is Suspension Of Pakistan’s GSP+ Status Overdue?” at the Press Club Brussels, hosted by Human Rights Without Frontiers

Brussels, 9 September 2021

By Akmal Bhatti

 

HRWF (21.09.2021) – Since 1987 to August 2021, 1,865 people have been charged under the blasphemy laws, with a significant spike in 2020, when 200 cases were registered. Punjab, the province where most Christians of Pakistan live, is leading with 76% cases and 337 people in prison for blasphemy. The largest number of inmates is in the Lahore District Jail (60). Also, at least 128 people have been killed by mobs, outside any judiciary process, after being signalled as having committed blasphemy or apostasy, without any chance to have access to an investigation, and nobody has been arrested for their murder.

 

The increasing trend of the misuse of the Blasphemy Law intensifies communal hatred, religious intolerance and persecution against religious minorities in Pakistan. The law is often used as a tool to settle personal scores, false witnesses are bought, and the burden of proof lies with the accused. These incidents have fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence and persecution that is mounting day by day.

 

Even more discrimination is imposed upon minorities with the Single National curriculum (SNC), in force since mid-August 2021. The SNC is a means of indoctrination already conservative society.  In the first phase, which started from March 2021, the government is making it mandatory for students from class one to five to be acquainted with deeniyat (religious books on Islam). In the Urdu textbook for Grade 2, children are being instructed to recite the naat (poem in praise of Prophet Muhammad), and additionally, a chapter on the life and history of Prophet Muhammad is to be introduced for eighth, ninth and tenth classes.

 

Pakistani government for the vision of unified educational system for all, the children of minority communities do not seem to have any space. Worse, the definition of “who is a Pakistani?” in the first years books totally excludes non-Muslims, and disparages other faiths. Holy Quran in Arabic and Islamic Studies are being made mandatory.

 

In such a case, students from minority communities may not have any other option but to follow the curriculum imposed on them. SNC militates against Article 22, 25 & 36 of the Pakistan Constitution, which safeguards the rights of minorities. It states that “no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction … if such instruction relates to a religion other than his/her own.”

 

The SNC calls for summoning an army of madrassah-educated holy men – hafiz’s and qaris – as paid teachers inside schools. This will surely affect the general ambiance and the safety of students.  It has also been observed that “the backdoor entry” of seminary teachers into mainstream educational institutions is a nightmare for minority students.

 

Minorities Alliance Pakistan staged a protest on Minorities’ Day, August 11, 2021 from the National Press club to the Parliament Square in Islamabad. We demanded the government to enact practical and solid steps to stop the misuse of Blasphemy Laws and forced conversion, rape, abduction and sexual enslavement of girls and women. We urged P.M. Imran Khan to implement electoral reforms and to start the development of projects for Christians living in the slums of the capital Islamabad.

On August 31st, 2021, we met with the newly assigned Muslim Cleric Allama Tahir Ashrafi, he is advisor to the Prime Minister for National Harmony, we explained our ordeals and concerns about these laws and discussed many cases. What I observed during the dialogue with him is that the religious and political leaders of the present government think that Christians commit blasphemy just by merely requesting asylum in other countries. They do not acknowledge discrimination or abuses in spite of the evidence.

Minorities Alliance Pakistan urges the Government of Pakistan to take realistic and solid steps to stop the abuses of the Blasphemy Law, which are causing massive human rights violations. We demanded that the Government constitutes a competent Inquiry Commission, to look into the cases pending in the courts, to secure fair and expedite justice.

 

Photo : claas.org

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website





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PAKISTAN: Conference about Blasphemy Laws in Brussels and Online

Conference about Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan and the Persecution of Minority Groups

Picture: Mob demonstrating for death penalty in blasphemy cases in Pakistan (Getty Images)
“The blasphemy laws of Pakistan, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority of Pakistan, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary; as such they permit, even invite, abuse and the harassment and persecution of minorities in Pakistan.” 
A conference to discuss Pakistan’s highly controversial and widely condemned blasphemy laws will take place on Tuesday July 27th, at 11.00 (CET) at the Press Club Brussels, under the auspices of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés (AIDLR)
The issues to be discussed will include:
  • The legal basis of the blasphemy laws.
  • The use of the laws to justify ethnic cleansing.
  • The particular effects on females.
Moderator: Andy Vermaut, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés .
Confirmed speakers
Paulo Casada, former MEP, Founder and executive director of the “South Asia Democratic Forum”. 
Jürgen Klute, former MEP, Christian theologian.
Willy Fautré, Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Manel Msalmi, International affairs Advisor of MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party at the European Parliament.
Journalists and other interested parties are invited to register to join the debate via Zoom by e-mailing mordeau.brussels@gmail.com before 21:00 July 26th.
The event will be live-streamed from 11.00 (CET) at: 




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SWITZERLAND: No to abolish the crime of blasphemy

By Peter Kenny

 

Ecumenical News (08.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3l8HNhc – Switzerland’s Federal Assembly has rejected a motion by a lawmaker to abolish the crime of blasphemy, which will remain on the law books but does not carry the massive penalties of some countries such as Pakistan where it can lead to the death sentence.

 

Breaking the law in Switzerland carries a fine.

 

The proposal to abolish blasphemy’s offense was put forward by in the lower house of the national parliament by Beat Flach, a member of the Liberal Greens Party, on Nov. 6 in the parliament but was defeated 115 votes to 48.

 

Freedom of expression “does not apply without limit,” said Justice and Police minister Karin Keller-Sutter, the national broadcaster, RTS reported.

 

In neighboring France, French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly defended freedom of expression in recent weeks, the right to caricature, and “the freedom to believe and not to believe.”

 

His defense of the French notion of secularity came after the assassination of a professor who had shown caricatures from Mahomet to his students in the Paris region, triggering numerous anti-French demonstrations in Muslim countries.

 

For the Federal Council, which is similar to a national cabinet made up of all the main national political parties, the protection of freedom of expression is an expression of freedom of conscience and belief, which is explicitly guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, she said.

 

Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code protects the peaceful “living together” and all religions and the right to respect for religious convictions.

 

That article says that “Any person who publicly and maliciously insults or mocks the religious convictions of others, and in particular their belief in God, or maliciously desecrates objects of religious veneration… is liable to a monetary penalty.”

 

It guarantees religious minorities criminal protection against persecution.

 

“You shouldn’t punish people for making fun of a faith,” said Flach. “We must give a clear and strong signal in favor of freedom of expression,” he pleaded.

 

The Swiss law does not directly punish words that insult divinity or the power of God, but it can act against those “flouting the convictions of others in matters of belief, in particular, belief in God”.

 

“In other words, religious convictions cannot be criticized to the same extent as other philosophical opinions,” asserted Flach, recalling that other countries have already abolished such an offense, including “Catholic Ireland.”

 

In Switzerland, the article relating to blasphemy does not seek to protect religious beliefs or God from insults but focuses on protecting others’ feelings.

 

“This helps to maintain religious peace,” Martino Mona, professor of criminal law and the philosophy of law at the University of Bern, reported the Swissinfo website.

 

Switzerland has a long tradition of religious wars and conflicts, which is why the blasphemy ban was needed, says Mona.

 

“Countries that have a stronger tradition of religious tolerance and diversity… don’t typically have such bans,” she explained.

 

In European countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Poland, and Russia, make blasphemy an offense. But it is not outlawed in France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.

 

Recent decades and an influx of immigrants have brought other religions to Switzerland, including Muslims, who account for about 5.1 percent of the 8.56 million people, Hinduism (0.6 percent), and Buddhism (0.5 percent).

Photo: © Peter Kenny.





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Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for ‘blasphemous texts’

Asif Pervaiz, 37, who has been in custody since 2013, given death penalty for sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages.

 

By Asad Hashim

Al Jazeera (08.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Fi6rNf – A court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore has sentenced a Christian man to death for having committed “blasphemy”, his lawyer says, in the latest case of Pakistan’s strict religious laws being applied against minorities.

 

Asif Pervaiz, 37, has been in custody since 2013 when he was accused of having sent “blasphemous” text messages to a former supervisor at work, lawyer Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera.

 

The court rejected his testimony wherein he denied the charges and sentenced him to death on Tuesday.

 

“The complainant was a supervisor in a hosiery factory where Asif was working under him,” said Malook.

 

“He denied the allegations and said that this man was trying to get him to convert to Islam.”

 

Speaking in his own defence in court earlier in the trial, Pervaiz claimed the supervisor confronted him after he quit work at the factory, and when he refused to convert he was accused of having sent blasphemous text messages to the man.

 

Blasphemy laws

 

Muhammad Saeed Khokher, the complainant in the case, denies wanting to convert Parvaiz, according to his lawyer, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry.

 

“He has taken this defence after the fact, because he had no other clear defence,” Chaudhry told Al Jazeera. “That’s why he accused him of trying to convert him.”

 

Chaudhry said there were other Christian employees at the factory, but none have accused Khokher of proselytising.

 

Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for the crime of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, and strict penalties for other infractions such as insulting Islam, the holy Quran or certain holy people.

 

There are currently at least 80 people in prison in Pakistan for the crime of “blasphemy”, with at least half of them facing life sentences or the death penalty, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

 

Those accused under the laws are mainly Muslim, in a country where 98 percent of the population follows Islam, but the laws disproportionately target members of minorities such as Christians and Hindus.

 

Aasia Bibi case

 

In one of the most high-profile blasphemy cases in the country’s history, the Supreme Court ruled in October 2018 that a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, had been framed in her case and that the laws had inadequate oversight for false accusations.

 

Those accusations can have deadly consequences. Since 1990, at least 77 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

 

Those killed have included people accused of blasphemy, their family members, lawyers and judges who have acquitted those accused of the crime. Bibi fled Pakistan in 2019 due to threats against her life.

 

The latest such murder took place in July when a man accused of blasphemy was shot six times in a courtroom during a hearing in his case.

 

His murderer was apprehended and was garlanded with roses by far-right supporters during subsequent court appearances.

 

This month has seen a sharp spike in blasphemy cases being registered in Pakistan, particularly in the most populous province of Punjab. Many of these cases have targeted the country’s sizeable Shia Muslim minority, which forms roughly 15 percent of the population.

 

Since a series of large-scale sit-in protests on the issue of blasphemy in 2017, political parties have increasingly been including messaging on blasphemy in their platforms.

 

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, formed by firebrand scholar Khadim Hussain Rizvi ahead of the 2018 polls, campaigned on a platform based on defence of the blasphemy laws.

 

While it won few seats, it garnered the fourth-highest share of the countrywide popular vote by a single party.





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Pakistan blasphemy: Gunman shoots accused dead in court

A man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has been shot dead in a courtroom during his trial in the northern city of Peshawar.

 

By Secunder Kermani

 

BBC News (29.07.2020) – https://bbc.in/2D999UM – He had been facing charges for allegedly claiming to be a prophet.

 

Blasphemy is legally punishable by death. No-one has been executed for it by the state but accusations can often lead to violent attacks.

 

The victim, Tahir Ahmad Naseem, was accused of blasphemy in 2018 by a teenager.

 

He was killed at a trial hearing on Wednesday morning. Video shared on social media shows his body slumped over the court’s seats.

 

His attacker was arrested at the scene. Another video shows him in handcuffs, shouting angrily that his victim was an “enemy of Islam”.

 

Mr Naseem was first accused of blasphemy by Awais Malik, a madrassa student from Peshawar. Mr Naseem had struck up an online conversation with him whilst living in the United States.

 

Mr Malik told the BBC he had then met Mr Naseem in a shopping mall in Peshawar to discuss his views on religion, after which he filed a case against him with the police.

 

He said he had not been present at court, and had no knowledge of the shooting. The suspect arrested for the killing has been named as Khalid. It is not clear how he managed to bring a weapon into the court premises.

 

Mr Naseem was born into the persecuted Ahmadi sect, according to a spokesman for the community. But he added that he had left the sect and claimed to be a prophet himself.

 

The community leader suggested Mr Naseem had been mentally ill – he had uploaded videos to YouTube claiming to be a messiah.

 

Human rights groups say Pakistan’s hardline blasphemy laws disproportionately target minority communities and encourage vigilante attacks. Dozens of people accused of being blasphemers have been killed by angry mobs or militants in recent years.

 

In an unrelated development, a hashtag campaign accusing a user of committing blasphemy has been trending on Twitter in the country.

 

But other users, concerned about the individual’s safety, have been actively trying to drown out the accusations, using a separate hashtag -#btsarmypakistan – a reference to fans of the extremely popular Korean pop group BTS.

 

One of those involved in the counter-trend told the BBC it was an attempt to “resist right-wing trolls taking over the internet and possibly killing someone in the process”.

 

Hashtags related to BTS were also used during recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US to drown out racist online counter-campaigns.


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