Government Takes First Step Towards Necessary Reform
5/28/2015 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Pakistan is set to introduce new legislation will curb the misuse of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws. The Pakistani government has finalized a draft bill that will now be presented to the parliament for approval. If approved and implemented, this legislation would mark a watershed moment for Pakistan in combating the widespread abuse and violence that has become synonymous with the country’s blasphemy laws.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Section 295 A – C of the country’s penal code, make it illegal to incite individuals’ religious sentiments as well as specifically punishing the desecration of the Quran and defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Punishment under these laws can be as severe as life imprisonment or execution by the state.
The proposed legislation, prepared by the Interior Ministry and reviewed by the Law Ministry, aims to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws on multiple fronts. First, the legislation would combat mob violence and extra-judicial killings, often incited by religious leaders following accusations of blasphemy, by declaring the state as the only body responsible for punishing individuals found guilty of blasphemy. Second, the legislation would introduce harsh penalties for individuals who file false accusations of blasphemy.
Finally, the legislation would introduce a mental element to the crime, something which Section 295-C currently does not meet. In the case of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, prosecutors would be required to show an individual had deliberate intention to blaspheme in order to find that individual guilty under the law.
ICC and other human rights observers have documented the widespread abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are often used to settle personal scores, eliminate rivals, or persecute religious minorities. Approximately 14 individuals are on death row for being found guilty of blasphemy, including four Christians. Another 19 individuals are serving life sentences. According to a report by the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, 52 individuals have been killed extra-judicially since 1990.
Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities are disproportionately accused and convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws an often face spats of communal violence following a blasphemy accusation. As noted by Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, “When a Muslim is accused of blasphemy, it is just that individual who pays the consequences. But if a Christian is accused, the entire Christian community is held responsible.”
If passed and implemented, the legislation would be a monumental step taken toward reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, an effort that has gotten politicians assassinated by the country’s religious extremists in the past. The new legislation could potentially go a long way towards securing the country’s heavily persecuted religious minorities.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan have been terrorized by the widely abused blasphemy laws for decades. In many cases, such as Joseph Colony in 2013, Gojra in 2009, and Lahore earlier this week, accusations of blasphemy have led to all-out communal violence being perpetrated against entire Christian neighborhoods. For Christians accused of blasphemy, the threat of being murdered outside of court is more likely than being executed by the state. In November 2014, a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan was beaten and burned alive in the brick kiln they worked at after being accused of blasphemy. This legislation being proposed by Pakistan is a real step in the right direction. However, just passing this proposed legislation will not be enough. The legislation must be properly implemented by Pakistan’s courts and local police in order for it to have its desired effect. Without the proper enforcement, this new legislation will be nothing but another piece of paper to be ignored.”