Law students and law graduates in Pakistan report for JURIST on events in that country that affect the justice system. Mariyam Taher Qayyum, a law graduate from the University of London, is submitting this message from Islamabad.
Religious extremism is on the rise again in Pakistan, a country that is constantly being condemned for its disregard for human rights. The current blasphemy laws in place in Pakistan make religious minorities particularly vulnerable to persecution.
Pakistan retained the penal code acquired by the British after gaining its independence in 1947. Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, paid special attention to minorities in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, claiming that people of every faith are allowed to visit their places of worship. A few years later, General Zia-ul-Haq came to power under a military dictatorship, ushering in an era of “Islamization” with significant changes to Pakistan’s Penal Code (PPC). With the help of fundamentalists, he began a much more rigorous Islamization of the nation, especially through the blasphemy laws. Pakistan’s Penal Code was revised several times between 1980 and 1986 and five sections were added dealing with blasphemy and other religious crimes. Every clause in the blasphemy law was modified or changed when Zia was leader, and the intent or mens rea requirement was completely removed. Section 295-C of the PPC is arguably the most controversial clause as it perpetuates the death penalty for defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad. Since Section 295-C is a strict liability offense without a ‘mental element’, it is easier to prove, despite the fact that it carries the death penalty.
It is imperative to note that the Pakistani ruling class has historically yielded to the demands of fundamentalist clerics, perhaps in an effort to secure their own rule or thwart the plans of their rivals. A person is “as good as dead” if charged with blasphemy, according to an Amnesty International investigation. According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), 84 people were charged with blasphemy in 2021. In addition, blasphemy laws contribute to a growing climate of dogma and hostility, leading to the creation of a culture of fanaticism and violence, as well as a number of deceptive convictions. These allegations result in workplace discrimination, exile and exile, as well as violence and murder by angry mob. More than anywhere else, crowd hysteria is fiercely cherished in alleged profanity cases. On the other hand, religious leaders and clerics in Pakistan have used the mob mentality to cause chaos and destruction. Such beliefs perpetuate and encourage violence and the murder of innocent persons, especially minorities, in Pakistan.
Human Rights Without Frontiers reports that 1,860 people were charged with blasphemy between 1987 and August 2021, with 200 cases filed in 2020, indicating a sharp increase. In addition, after being detained on charges of blasphemy, more than 128 people were murdered by vigilantes outside of any legal process, with no opportunity to investigate and no one was prosecuted. Throughout the year, blasphemy attacks are perpetrated against a number of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Muslim factions, including the Shia and Ahmadiyya groups. The manager of a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, Priantha Kumara, was attacked by several hundred Muslim workers on December 3, 2021 for removing posters of far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), who prayed Islamic prayers. According to media reports, the perpetrators beat, stamped and stoned him to death before setting his body on fire.
In a recent Supreme Court ruling, Salamat Mansha Mashih v The State, Judge Qazi Faez Isa expressed his dismay at the urge to accuse others, claiming that every second person pointed a finger and accused others of disrespecting religion without acknowledge and acknowledge that this was not the case. is a simple or general crime, but carries the death penalty instead. Salamat Masih, a Christian park sweeper, was charged with blasphemy after approaching a stranger and giving them a book. He spent more than a year of his life behind bars anticipating what appeared to be a death sentence when the Supreme Court released him on bail. Therefore, crimes related to religion will be dealt with diligently as they carry dire consequences.
With impunity from the state, vigilantes continue to carry out extrajudicial killings. Blasphemy laws continue to negatively affect the country’s plurality and foster an ethos of radicalism and bigotry. The charges of blasphemy are based on unfounded allegations, motivated by the persecution of minorities and the desire to settle personal scores. Therefore, it is essential that the law be amended to provide minorities with broader rights and harsher consequences for those who make false accusations.
Mariyam Taher Qayyum has a law degree from the University of London’s external programme. She currently works as a legal intern at the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Supreme Court of Islamabad.