Pakistan tightens its already far-reaching blasphemy laws

 

Pakistanis protest Nov. 2, 2018, in Lahore, shortly after the nation’s supreme court acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges. / AMSyed/Shutterstock.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 23, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

The parliament of Pakistan moved this week to tighten its already far-reaching blasphemy laws, under which numerous Christians and other minorities have been prosecuted and subjected to mob violence, often for dubious charges of blasphemy against beliefs or figures associated with Islam.

Insulting the Prophet Muhammad is already, at least on paper, a capital offense in Pakistan. Under the newest legal changes, those convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, companions, or close relatives will now face 10 years in prison, a sentence that can be extended to life, along with a fine of 1 million rupees, or roughly $4,500, reported the New York Times. It also makes the charge of blasphemy an offense for which bail is not possible.

Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, and blasphemy laws have been on the books in the country for more than a century, even before it became an independent nation. A notable escalation of the country’s blasphemy laws occurred in 1987 when the death sentence was made mandatory for some violations.

One of the most famous cases in recent years was that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who spent nearly a decade on death row after being accused of disparaging Islam. Numerous world leaders called for her immediate release, including Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. In October 2018, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her blasphemy conviction. She subsequently fled the country and reportedly still receives death threats.

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), told CNA that each time Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been changed since the 1980s, they have become harsher. He noted that although the laws are not applied solely to Christians — many Muslims are charged as well — the fact that accusations against Christians are so common in a country that is 97% Muslim means the laws are not being equally applied.

“Any time Pakistan enhances the law or increases the possibility for cases to be brought up, it’s not good for Christians,” Clancy told CNA in an interview.

Clancy noted that even if a Christian is not arrested or prosecuted by the state, accusations of blasphemy can ruin lives or even lead to death, as mobs and vigilantes, stirred up to violence, often take the matter into their own hands. Pakistani authorities, while touting the fact that the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, often ignore the many mob killings and disappearances that have taken place after an accusation of blasphemy, he said.

“The punishment is almost never administered by the state, but rather by mob justice,” he noted.

ACN’s primary mission is to support the pastoral life of the Catholic Church, and in the case of Pakistani Christians, this means helping many of the victims of the blasphemy laws in their legal cases, Clancy said. Of great concern, he said, is the difficulties they have faced in finding lawyers willing to argue the cases because they can themselves become targets of a mob. Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law have also been targeted by violence.

Clancy said ACN will continue to offer support for those victims of the blasphemy laws in legal and pastoral support. He urged prayers for the Christian community in Pakistan and suggested that people contact their elected representatives about the issue. Pakistan is designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. State Department, a designation that carries with it the possibility of sanctions, but these have not been well applied, Clancy said. He said he worried about the continued strengthening of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, warning that such laws are making Christianity virtually impossible to practice in Pakistan.

He mentioned a current blasphemy case in Pakistan of two Christian nuns who, in April 2021, were accused of blasphemy after temporarily moving some decorative Islamic phrases from the wall of a hospital room while cleaning the room. Two years later, the women are still under this “prolonged indictment,” he said.

“The evidence is in their favor. The accusation appears vindictive and baseless. Even should these two women be found not guilty, they will not be safe in Pakistan. They and their families will have to flee. With the new laws being broadened, there will be more opportunities for injustice,” Clancy said.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores — even among the most powerful — or to persecute religious minorities. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who supported the country’s blasphemy laws as a candidate, was himself charged by his successor’s government for blasphemy in May of last year. In November, Khan survived an assassination attempt at a political rally that appeared to be religiously motivated.

Pakistan’s authorities have consistently failed to implement safeguards on behalf of religious minorities, despite numerous policies in favor of economic and physical protections for members of non-Muslim religions. As of 2020, at least 40 people were serving a life sentence or facing execution for blasphemy in the country.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Catholic News Agency 6517 Articles
Catholic News Agency (www.catholicnewsagency.com)

1 Comment

  1. 2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

    1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

    1 Timothy 1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

    John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    John 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    Dear Muslim what has Allah given you? Do you have peace in your heart, do you have assurance of salvation? What benefits has islam given you and did Muhammad die for your sins? He died for his own sins and the “writings” tell us he died a gruesome death. Jesus also died a nightmarish death, yet He was sinless. The Lord Jesus is our saviour.

    It would be an honour to answer your questions, or on the other hand, if you wish to present islam, we can discuss it!

    Blessings to all who seek God’s plan of salvation! His word resonates with you because He loves you.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Pakistan tightens its already far-reaching blasphemy laws | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*