Blasphemy law, a sword hanging over our heads
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – I am native Pakistani Christian. I studied in Pakistan and saw how the blasphemy law has and is being used and abused to settle personal scores, kill Christians and burn their homes and properties. Pakistan has a population of some 180 million people, 96 per cent Muslim and 2 per cent Christian.
It is very unfortunate to see that another Christian, a woman this time, Asia Bibi, has become the target of the controversial Section 295 C of the penal code. Since the promulgation of the law in1990, about 30 Christians have been charged. Not one has been found guilty by a higher court, although a couple did receive the death sentence in the lower courts. This law has brought a lot of misery and oppression to the people of Pakistan, in particular Pakistani Christians. About a thousand people have charged under the law, including Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman is the latest victim of the law. Unfortunately, she is the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against Islam’s prophet. A local judge, Naveed Iqbal, sentenced her to hang. The circumstances show that Asia Bibi was the victim, insulted by Muslim women co-workers who objected to her bringing water because, as a Christian, she was ‘unclean’.
It is very unfortunate that we have this law. It has instilled fear in the people, particularly Christians. It is very often used to settle personal scores. Both Christians and Muslims have been killed by angry mobs, angered by allegations that a copy of the Qur’an was desecrated or blasphemy was committed against the prophet of Islam. For example, a Christian teacher, Nimat Ahmer, was killed by a student in a courthouse in Faisalabad. Another Christian, Banto Masih, was attacked and seriously hurt whilst the police custody and later died. Masih Masih, also Christian, was killed as he left the High Court in Lahore where he had been formally charged with violating Section 295 C. A Muslim, Sajad Farooq, who was also a Hafiz (lit. Guardian) someone who memorises the Holy Qur‘an, was killed by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Quran. Another Muslim, a member of Pakistan’s parliament (Majlas-e-Shura or Council of Advisors) under military strongman General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was killed in jail by a police officer.
This law is so vague that it is easy to accuse anyone of blasphemy and then kill him. Often, when people are involved in land disputes or other personal quarrel, one of the parties can be charged under the controversial legislation. Usually, the courts tend to throw the case and free the accused. Unfortunately, we are living in a society where fanatical Muslims can kill anyone, anytime, anywhere even if a court found them innocent and blameless. Too often, the only alternative is escape to another country. There are several such cases including some Christians like Salamat Masih, Ayub Masih and more. Because of this law, our society has become more violent and prone to aggressive behaviour.
Political leaders like Benazir Bhutto, when she was prime minister, and Pervez Musharraf, when he was President, tried to bring some changes to this law; for instance, requiring that investigations be conducted by higher officers before a case can be filed against any individual. However, neither leader was able to bring any slight change to the law. They were threatened by hard-line fanatical Muslim leaders who organised street protests and issued dire warnings against making changes to the law.
This is the situation in which we are living. The law is like the sword of Damocles, hanging over our heads. We protest the use and the misuse of this law. Many Muslim and Christian human organisations are against the law.
It is very unfortunate that Asia Bibi was handed a hanging sentence. I am confident that she will be released, eventually, by the higher courts, as in several other cases. Very often, lower court judges of are not able to bear the threats and pressures by fanatic Muslims. Thus, they convict people under this law in order to save their own lives.
At present, Pakistan is going through a good deal of turmoil. It is very unfortunate that our country has become a land challenged by fanaticism, terrorism and violence. Every public place has become a potential target. At this dark moment, people feel powerless. However, we Christians have an important role to play: bring hope to our entire people. We have a prophetic role to play in Pakistan: to reject the use of violence to counter violence, hatred against hatred. Our Church is a Church that suffers. Our schools, church buildings and hospitals have been attacked and more than 300 Christian homes have been burnt.
The country’s increasing Islamisation scares Christians and makes them feel insecure. Meanwhile, the Taliban are gaining ground. The government should tough measures against Qur‘anic schools that teach an Islam with an ugly face, that imposes its will through weapons and bombs.
*The author’s name has been withheld because the person still lives in Pakistan and fears for his or her safety.