02/03/2021, 13.35
PAKISTAN
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Blasphemy law: 2020, the year of the most abuses

by Shafique Khokhar

Some 200 people were accused of blasphemy last year, 75 per cent Muslims (70 per cent Shi‘as), 20 per cent Ahmadis, and 3.5 per cent Christians. if in the beginning Muslims tended to accuse non-Muslims, Muslims now mostly accuse other Muslims. At least 78 people were killed extra-judicially over blasphemy or apostasy. For Peter Jacob, the government should focus on those who drive the machine of religious intolerance.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Recent data released by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) show that Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation is creating more and more victims.

Between 1987 and December 2020, at least 1,855 people were charged with offences related to religion, especially under Sections 295 B and C and 298 C of the Penal Code of Pakistan, generally referred to as the “blasphemy laws”.

Last year saw the highest number of cases: 200 (picture). It is worth noting that 75 per cent of the accused are Muslims, mostly Shi‘as (70 per cent), followed by Ahmadis (20 per cent), Sunnis (5 per cent), Christians (3.5 per cent), Hindus (1 per cent) and other/unconfirmed religions (0.5 per cent) (picture 3).

One  of the victims best known to world opinion is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over accusations of blasphemy made by some women and the imam of her village. She was eventually released upon appeal but not before spending 10 years in prison.

Noting that 1987 saw only 19 cases, we realise that the rising number of case is indicative of how the law has become a tool to easily get rid of economic, political, or religious rivals.

While in the beginning, Muslims tended to accuse non-Muslims, now the trend sees Muslims mostly accuse other Muslims, which does not preclude the fact that members of various minority groups are still targeted with accusations of blasphemy.

The trend of the past few years also highlights Pakistan’s great sectarian divide (especially Sunni vs Shi‘as) and the increasingly abusive use of religion hanging over all Pakistani citizens.

Interestingly, since 1987, Punjab has had the most blasphemy complaints (76 per cent), followed by Sindh (19 per cent) (picture 4).

As of December 2020, Punjab prisons were holding 337 prisoners for blasphemy, both those convicted and those awaiting trial. The largest number of inmates are in the Lahore district jail (60).

At least 78 people have been killed extra-judicially after being accused of blasphemy or apostasy: 42  Muslims, 23 Christians, 9 Ahmadis, two Hindus and two whose religion could not be ascertained.

These figures do not include the targeted killings of members of sects considered heretical or apostate, so the overall number far exceeds those mentioned above. In fact, the killings of Hazaras, Ahmadis and Shi‘as are often attributed to terrorist actions.

The notion of blasphemy is frequently and openly used in fund raising, hate speech and the indoctrination of violent groups.

For CSJ Executive Director Peter Jacob, “These statistics depict Pakistan as a place where abuse of blasphemy is the highest in the world. The law is frequently used to made despicable and multiple human rights violations, including physical violence, loss of property and livelihood, evictions and even loss of life

“It is not only the accused but some time entire families and communities who experience suffering after allegations are levelled. The government needs to pay serious attention to the drivers of religious intolerance.”

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