Religious minorities in Pakistan oft-times suffer from misuse of blasphemy law: Amnesty International

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A recent report issued by Amnesty International stated that the religious minorities in Pakistan often become targets of false blasphemy accusations. The report spotlighted the plight of the Christians in Pakistan, mentioning various cases when Christians and other minorities became victims of blasphemy law.

Misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan

The report titled: “PAKISTAN: ‘AS GOOD AS DEAD’: THE IMPACT OF THE BLASPHEMY LAWS IN PAKISTAN,” said that the controversial blasphemy law actually “emboldening vigilantes” who are willing to threaten, torture or even kill those accused of committing blasphemy.

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The report quotes Supreme Court judgment in Malik Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri vs the State, 7 October 2015: “The Majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community.”

“On 4 January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was killed by one of his
security guards, Mumtaz Qadri. He said he committed the murder because, “this is the punishment for a
blasphemer.” Salmaan Taseer had sought a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi, also known as Asia Noreen, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand and a woman with responsibility for five young children from the village of Ittan Wali, near the Punjabi city of Sheikhupura. In November 2010, Asia Bibi became the first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. Salmaan Taseer’s support for her, and his view that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were “black laws”, were also cast as an act of blasphemy by supporters of the laws.

Overnight, Mumtaz Qadri became a national hero for supporters of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Religious
parties brought tens of thousands of their followers on to the streets to demand Mumtaz Qadri’s release. A mosque was named after him and became so popular that funds were raised to create a new prayer hall. Many lawyers wanted to represent him pro bono to reward him for what they saw as a justified killing. Lawyers and religious clerics chanted slogans supporting him outside the court hearings. The Pakistan People’s Party-led government of the time bowed to public pressure, vowing not to amend the blasphemy laws.”

The report further stated: “On 2 March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the cabinet and the Minister for Minorities, was shot dead outside his mother’s house in Islamabad. Shahbaz Bhatti was the only senior Pakistani official to back Salmaan Taseer’s calls for the blasphemy laws to be amended. Before his death, he told the BBC that he was facing threats to his life for speaking out against the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.

On 7 October 2015, Mumtaz Qadri’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, and on 29 February 2016 he was hanged. Following his execution, thousands of his supporters took to the streets of his hometown Rawalpindi to mark his funeral. In March 2016, thousands of Qadri supporters protested outside the National Assembly in Islamabad, setting fire to and damaging property, attacking journalists, and clashing with the police.”

“At the time of writing, Asia Bibi remains imprisoned in Sheikhupura. On 13 October 2016, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear her case in the ultimate stage of her appeal process. On the day, the Supreme Court adjourned the appeal hearing indefinitely. Earlier, on 22 July 2015, the Supreme Court suspended Asia Bibi’s death sentence for the duration of the appeals process.

This report details how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights, both in their substance and their application – whether this is violations of human rights by the state, or abuses of the laws by non-state actors. The laws do not meet human rights standards and lack essential safeguards to minimise the risk of additional violations and abuses.

It is difficult to establish precise information on the number of blasphemy cases as there is limited available data. However, data provided by human rights groups the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) shows a large increase of cases since the 1980s. For example, according to NCJP, a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987.” Amnesty International said in its report.

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