The Notorious Blasphemy Law

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This verity may surprise many that the history of the Blasphemy Law dates back to the British Rule era in the sub-continent. Beyond shadow of a doubt, the Blasphemy Law was introduced by the British Government in 1860; principally for protection of the religious beliefs and sentiments of differing religious populace in the sub-continent.

Section 295 more often than not known as the Blasphemy Law guaranteed protection of places of worship of various sects of all religions, existing in the sub-continent. Hinduism, Islam and Budhism were the dominant religions in the sub-continent- existing as a minority was Christianity.

The law had no aspect, what so ever for any sort of preference or discrimination towards any particular religion. In its very fundamental nature it was meant to maintain equality of all, and to regulate harmonization and to create a sense of mutual tolerance amongst the nations living in the sub-continent. In short, Section 295 was justly, an example of a secular and democratic law.

In 1927, when the calamitous religious-riots broke out in the sub-continent Section 295-A was promulgated. This turbulence was characterized by deliberate attempts to provoke the opponents on religious grounds.

Section 295 was applied when someone injured or defiled places of worship with an aim to profane or humiliate any class of a religion or if someone deliberately causes a damage or defiles their places of worship. Section 295-A; dealt with an offender who deliberately intended to outrage religious feelings of any religious class by insulting its religion or religious belief.  This deliberate insult may be by using written or spoken words or visual representation instead. The British Government publicized four laws Section 295, 296, 298 (in 1860) and IPC295A (in 1927) in the un-partitionedIndiato deal with the issues of Blasphemy.

Pakistan became an heir to these Laws when it was carved out of the Indo-Pak sub-continent in 1947.

The yarn of the Blasphemy law reached its zenith when President Zia-ul Haq made some amendments as Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code in 1982.

This modification was a direct result of his campaign of Islamization. Section 295-B of  PPC, defiling the Holy Quran was established by a Presidential ordinance which read as “Defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an.

Whoever willfully defiles damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”

It stipulates life imprisonment penalty for the offender.

In a further attempt by President Zia-ul-Haq to satisfy the extremists, he modified the Blasphemy Law as Section 295-C, through Criminal Law, Act III of 1986; the blasphemy law against Prophet Muhammad. Notwithstanding this, but for the first time ever in the country’s history a clause was added to the Pakistan Penal Code, that the Judge hearing cases under Section 295-C must be a Muslim.

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code is applicable when the offender uses derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.

In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court while, adjudicating a case, abolished the life imprisonment penalty thus making the Death penalty mandatory.

The significant feature of this Section is the absence of expression “willfully” or “intentionally” in the text of the Law. Closing the eyes to intentional or unintentional offence, the person charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code will always be awarded with a death sentence.

“From 1851 to 1947, when the hatred between the Muslims and Hindus was at peak during the British Rule, there were only 7 Blasphemy related cased registered.”

“On the contrary, from 1977 to 1988, during the Zia regime as many as 80 cases were registered. On the whole this figure mounts up to a total of 247 registered cases from 1987 to August 2012.”

These cases directly impinged on almost 435 people.

Facts and figures reveal that from 1953 to July 2012, 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and 4 Hindus have been found guilty of committing Blasphemy.

However, these figures represent only the registered cases only, but there are reported incidences when people are extra- judicially murdered on allegations of Blasphemy.