Pakistan ‘s Blasphemy Laws Need Reforming
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used by Muslims to carry out attacks against Christians, Ahmadis, Shi’ites and Hindus. It’s high time for Pakistan to protect religious minorities by repealing the blasphemy laws.
By Huma Yusuf
06/29/2010 Pakistan (Common Ground News Service)-Sadly, the recent violence against the Ahmadi community, which left 80 worshippers dead at an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore , is not a new phenomenon. Religious minorities in Pakistan – particularly Ahmadis, Christians, Shi’ites and Hindus – have been increasingly persecuted in Pakistan in recent decades. Their rights are routinely violated on the premise that they are non-Muslims and therefore second-class citizens.
According to its constitution, Pakistan ’s government and any changes to the constitution must comply with Islamic tenets.
In 1974, under pressure from religious political parties, former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced a constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims on the basis of ideological differences on theological issues. For instance, Ahmadis regard their 19th century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet, whereas Muslims affirm the Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet. This act set a precedent for constitutionally stripping Pakistan ’s religious minorities of their rights to freedom of belief and expression.
During military dictator General Zia ul Haq’s reign from 1977 to 1988, further anti-minority constitutional changes were introduced. In 1982, additions to the Pakistan Penal Code made committing blasphemy a penal offence and anyone found to be critical of the Prophet Muhammad or disrespectful towards the Qur’an could now face a jail term or, thanks to a 1986 amendment, the death penalty.
Not surprisingly, these provisions – or “blasphemy laws”, as they are commonly known – have facilitated discrimination against religious minorities over the years. Human rights groups have routinely documented how anti-blasphemy legislation has been exploited by some members of Pakistan ’s Sunni majority to justify censorship, settle personal vendettas and even effect land grabs – with Muslims accusing non-Muslim land owners of blasphemy.
Law-enforcement officers have consistently failed to stem violence against minorities. High-ranking police officials have since been arrested for standing idly by while the SSP broadcast anti-Christian propaganda from mosque loudspeakers in Gojra before the riots. And the Punjab police have been lambasted for failing to provide adequate security in the wake of the Lahore attacks against Ahmadis.
What is more troubling, however, is that successive democratically elected governments have failed to respond to the nationwide persecution of minorities. Since coming to power in 2008, the current Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has announced on three occasions that the blasphemy laws will be reformed. It was only after the Lahore attacks against Ahmadis that PPP politicians began drafting legislation that called for harsh punitive measures against those who accuse others of blasphemy without sound proof. Though welcome, such legislation is a disappointing reminder that more radical changes to the constitution, which are needed, will not be effected in the foreseeable future.
It is essential that the Pakistan government repeal the blasphemy laws as a first step towards truly protecting the rights of religious minorities. A complete overhaul of the national educational curriculum, which was tampered with during the Zia years to perpetuate misconceptions about minority beliefs and foster a culture of discrimination, is then needed to address the growing intolerance of Pakistani society.