Law students and law graduates in Pakistan report for JURIST on events in that country that impact its legal system. Law degree from the University of London Mariyam Taher Qayyum delivers this dispatch from Islamabad.
Religious extremism is on the rise again in Pakistan, a country consistently condemned for its disregard for human rights. Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws make religious minorities particularly vulnerable to persecution.
Pakistan retained the penal code acquired by the British after gaining independence in 1947. Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, devoted special attention to minorities in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, claiming that people of all faiths are allowed to visit their places of worship. A few years later, General Zia-ul-Haq came to power under a military dictatorship, heralding an era of “Islamization” that saw sweeping changes to the Pakistani Penal Code (PPC). With the help of fundamentalists, he began a much more rigorous Islamization of the nation, especially through blasphemy laws. Pakistan’s Penal Code was revised several times between 1980 and 1986, and five articles were added which deal with blasphemy and other religious offences. Every clause of the Blasphemy Law was modified or changed when Zia was chief, and the intention or mens rea the requirement has been completely removed. Article 295-C of the CPC is undeniably the most controversial clause because it perpetuates the death penalty for desecrating the name of the Prophet Muhammad. As Section 295-C is a strict liability offense with no “mental element”, it is easier to prove despite the fact that it carries the death penalty.
It is imperative to note that Pakistan’s ruling class has historically acceded to the demands of fundamentalist clergy, perhaps in an effort to secure its own power or frustrate the plans of its rivals. A person is ‘as dead’ if accused of blasphemy, according to a study by Amnesty International. 84 people were charged with blasphemy in 2021, according to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ). Additionally, blasphemy laws contribute to a growing environment of dogma and hostility, leading to the creation of a culture of bigotry and violence in addition to being the cause of a number of spurious convictions. These allegations lead to workplace discrimination, ostracism and exile, as well as violence and murder at the hands of enraged mobs. More than anywhere else, mob hysteria is vehemently encouraged in cases of alleged blasphemy. On the other hand, in Pakistan, religious leaders and clerics have used the mob mentality to sow chaos and destruction. Such beliefs perpetuate and encourage violence and the killing of innocent people, especially minorities, in Pakistan.
Human rights without borders reports that 1,860 people were charged with blasphemy between 1987 and August 2021, with 200 cases filed in 2020, indicating a sharp increase. Moreover, after being arrested on suspicion of blasphemy, more than 128 people were murdered by militiamen outside of any legal procedure, without the possibility of investigation and no one was prosecuted. Throughout the year, blasphemy-based attacks are perpetrated against a number of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Islamic factions, including Shia and Ahmadiyya groups. The manager of a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, Priantha Kumara, was attacked on December 3, 2021 by several hundred Muslim workers because she took down posters of far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan ( TLP), which contained Islamic prayers. The perpetrators allegedly beat, trampled and stoned him to death before setting fire to his body, according to media reports.
In a recent Supreme Court judgment, Salamat Mansha Mashih v. State, Justice Qazi Faez Isa expressed dismay at the urge to blame others and claimed that one in two people have pointed fingers and accused others of denigrating religion without acknowledging and acknowledging that it was not. a simple or common offence, but instead carries the death penalty. A Christian park sweeper, Salamat Masih has been charged with blasphemy after she approached a stranger and gave him a book. He spent more than a year of his life behind bars while anticipating what appeared to be a death sentence when the Supreme Court granted him bail. Therefore, crimes related to religion should be dealt with diligently as they carry serious consequences.
With complete impunity from the state, vigilante groups continue to carry out extrajudicial executions. Blasphemy laws still negatively impact the plurality of the nation and foster an ethic of radicalism and intolerance. The blasphemy charges are based on baseless allegations, driven by the persecution of minorities and the desire to settle personal scores. Therefore, it is essential that the law be amended to grant minorities greater rights and more severe consequences for those who make false accusations.
Mariyam Taher Qayyum is a law graduate from the University of London External Programme. She is currently working as a legal intern at the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the High Court of Islamabad.