Blasphemy legislation reaps 34 years of persistent and constant abuse

About 84 cases were reported in 2021 alone. A majority of victims are Muslim with most cases in Punjab. A report published by the Centre for Social Justice highlights how intolerance starts in school.

 


Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation is persistently and constantly abused, this according to a recent report published by the Centre for Social Justice.

The study, Human Rights Observer 2022, contains data on blasphemy cases since 1987, with a focus on last year.

During the initial four years since stricter blasphemy legislation was introduced under General Zia ul-Huq, the number of cases never exceeded 18 a year.

Things changed afterwards, with the number of blasphemy cases progressively rising, reaching a maximum of 208 in 2020 (see infographic).

In the first decade of this century (2001-2010), 708 cases were reported, rising to 767 in the next 11 years (2001-2011). Most of the victims are Muslim and almost all cases are reported in Punjab.

In 2020, 70 per cent of cases involved Shia Muslims; only 5 per cent, Sunnis; Ahmadis, 20 per cent; Christians, 3.5 per cent; Hindus, 1 per cent; and 0.5 per cent for people whose religion was unconfirmed.

In 2021, there were fewer cases, 84, but similar ratios: 45 Muslims, 25 Ahmadis, 7 Christians and 7 Hindus (see infographic).

Looking at the period from 1987 to 2021, Muslims represent almost half of the victims, with 47.6 per cent; Ahmadis are 33 per cent; Christians, 14.4 per cent; and Hindus, 2.2 per cent.

A skewed ratio is also found in extrajudicial killings. Out of 84 killed in this 35-year period, half (42) were Muslims, followed by Christians (23 or 27 per cent), Ahmadis (14), and others (5 Buddhists, Hindus or unconfirmed).

The largest number of cases, with over 75 per cent, was reported in Punjab, followed by 18.4 per cent in Sindh, 2.7 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 1.5 per cent in Islamabad.

In 2021 alone, we have the same distribution: 68 cases in Punjab, 7 in the Islamabad Capital Territory, 5 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 3 in Sindh, and 1 in Kashmir.

As for forced conversions, however, the number rose to at least 78 cases in 2021, up by 50 per cent over 2019 and 80 per cent over 2020. This includes 39 Hindu females, 38 Christians, and a Sikh. The most alarming fact concerns age: in 76 per cent of case, the victim was underage.

Although the government has acknowledged the problem by setting up a parliamentary committee to protect 10 minorities from forced conversions, Pakistan’s parliament rejected a bill against forced conversions.

Other laws for the protection of minorities exist but they are rarely used.

For the Centre for Social Justice, a general climate of intolerance has developed in recent years, starting with the education system.

In 2021 a national curriculum was introduced in elementary school, but “the overall educational approach brought the public education closer to madrassah education,” the report found.

The curriculum focuses only on Islam, while “students of the religious minorities are deprived of studying their own religion”.

Textbooks thus violate Article 22 of Pakistan’s constitution, according to which “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”

The situation is particularly serious in Punjab, where ulema preside over a council tasked with revising school textbooks.

In June 2020, the study of the Qurʾān was made compulsory without giving an alternative to non-Muslim students.

In December 2021, the recitation of some prayers (darud sharif) and some verses of the Qurʾān was also imposed before the national anthem at the beginning of school gatherings.

The Lahore High Court issued a ruling in November 2021 authorising district judges to conduct inspections and close schools that do not comply with the provisions on teaching the Qurʾān.

So far Pakistan’s federal government has not yet challenged the ruling.