As Injustice Escalates, Senator in Pakistan Seeks Solution to ‘Blasphemy’ Violence

Christian mother of five appeals death sentence; blogger in hiding is arrested.

 

Pakistanis protest against blasphemy laws and violence against Christians. (File Photo)

Pakistanis protest against blasphemy laws and violence against Christians. (File Photo)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – In the span of one month, a Christian blogger who hid for more than three years on a blasphemy charge was arrested; a Christian mother of five sentenced to death for allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad filed her appeal with the Supreme Court; and a mob tortured and killed a Christian couple accused of desecrating the Koran.

At the end of that month, November, a key senator from the ruling party floated a proposal calling for the establishment of inter-faith committees throughout Pakistan to investigate blasphemy allegations in order to head off potential violence.

Rising violence against non-Muslims on false charges of blaspheming Islam prompted Raja Zafarul Haq of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party to call for reform of blasphemy laws blatantly misused to settle personal vendettas. The proposed committees would help defuse communal tension and stave off incidents such as the Nov. 4 murder of Shama and Shahzad Masih in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan on false charges of desecrating the Koran.

“The [inter-faith] committee should ascertain the facts, and in case the allegations are denied, then it should drop the charges against them,” he said during a meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs.

He spoke after the religious affairs committee reviewed a report on the gruesome slaying in Kot Radha Kishan, in which the body of Shama Masih and the battered and unconscious Shahzad Masih were burned in a brick kiln.

Asked whether his PML-N party would introduce relevant legislation for setting up such committees, Haq said, “This is my proposal which I had given a couple of years ago as well; there should be discussion over it [in parliament].”

The senator insisted that such cases could not be closed by secretly shipping blasphemy convicts out of the country or allowing someone to kill them at pre-trial stages.

Haq said there is a need to revamp blasphemy and other laws related to worship places, and that either the Religious Affairs Ministry or the Council of Islamic Ideology or both could undertake such reform.

He also noted that if police had taken notice of the allegations against Shama Masih on Nov. 2, when they first surfaced, and taken the couple into protective custody, the tragedy could have been averted.

Asia Bibi

Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, on Nov. 24 filed an appeal of her death sentence that the Lahore High Court upheld on Oct. 16 – her last recourse in the Pakistani judicial system.

Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, asked the court to reconsider the case on the basis of manipulated and deficient evidence, in particular the delay between the time of the incident and the police investigation.

“We expect an early hearing of the appeal and hope that the proceedings will be over in one year,” he said in a statement.

Arrested in June 2009, Bibi has been on death row since 2010 after Muslim women with whom she worked in a field said that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch their water bowl. In the ensuing argument, they accused her of insulting Muhammad.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, has written an open letter to the president of Pakistan requesting a pardon and permission to move to France, where they have been offered refuge. Fifty-four British members of parliament also signed a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk, appealing for their urgent attention to Bibi’s case.

Although no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, accusations often lead to mob violence. There are 17 people on death row who have been accused of “blasphemy,” including five Christians.

Agenzia Fides reported that 1,438 people in Pakistan were accused of blasphemy between 1987 and October 2014, according to Pakistani Non-Governmental Organization Awaz-e-Haq Itehad (AHI), and that currently religious minorities account for about 50 percent of those accused even though they form less than 4 percent of the population – 501 Ahmadis, 182 Christians, 26 Hindus, and 10 others whose religion could not be ascertained.  

Among the 60 people who were killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990, AHI said 32 were religious minorities and 28 were Muslims. Of the total killed, 20 were either attacked in police custody or killed by policemen, and 19 were slain by mobs.

Qaiser Ayub

A Christian blogger from Lahore who has been in hiding for more than three years after authorities charged him with blaspheming the prophet of Islam was arrested on Nov. 14.

Qaiser Ayub, a 40-year-old instructor with a master’s degree in computer science, was moderating a Christian blog when Muhammad Saeed, a Muslim from Talagang in Chakwal District, filed a blasphemy case against him on June 9, 2011, alleging that he had insulted Muhammad in his blogs.

Investigating officer Khurram Hussain told Morning Star News that Saeed had accused Ayub of using derogatory language against the Muslim prophet and posting “blasphemous” sketches on his website.

“Preliminary investigation suggests that Ayub had posted the blasphemous content on his blog, but we are trying to get to the bottom of things,” he said, declining to comment on whether the accused Christian had admitted to the charges. “We don’t want to reveal our findings at this stage, since it’s a sensitive issue and may put the lives of the accused and other people related to the investigation at risk.”

The final charge sheet will be presented to the court after the investigation is completed, he said, adding that police had requested trial to be held in prison due to security threats.

A trial court declared Ayub an absconder in 2012, and he remained in hiding until his arrest in Lahore by a police team from Chakwal.

Morning Star News made repeated efforts to contact members of Ayub’s immediate family, but relatives declined to reveal their whereabouts or comment on the case.

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