Blasphemy Law Reform Drafted in Pakistan as Three More Christians Are Accused

‘Bad intent’ must be proven for conviction under new legislation.

Christians look on as Muslims carry out ritual prayer after council meeting over blasphemy accusation in church building. (Morning Star News)

Christians look on as Muslim leaders recite ritual prayer after council meeting over blasphemy accusation in church building. (Morning Star News)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The Pakistani government has finished drafting a bill to combat abuse of blasphemy laws to which three Christians in the past month alone have fallen prey, sources said.

In Nankana Sahib District of Punjab Province, a Muslim accused a 94-year-old Christian landowner of blaspheming Islam in retaliation for the landowner’s attempt to resolve a disagreement over profit-sharing on a cornfield. Chaudhry Habil Qaiser of Martinpur village on May 27 filed an application with the predominantly Christian area’s inter-faith harmony committee asserting that Maulvi Muhammad Bashir, who used to till his land, was spreading false rumors that he had blasphemed Islam.

“Despite my repeated calls to Bashir, he refused to come to my house and discuss the issue,” Qaiser told Morning Star News. “On May 25, Malik Ghulam Amjad, a Muslim from a neighboring village, told me on the telephone that Bashir was propagating that I had mocked Islamic tenets in his presence. This propaganda was disseminated in several Muslim-inhabited villages.”

Qaiser has spent all his life in the same village and is widely respected throughout the district, and the allegations of blasphemy fell on deaf ears. But Bashir then filed an application with Abdul Hameed Rehmani, local head of a group called Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuvat, or Protectors of Prophet’s Finality, stepping up fears that the Christian village could face a mob attack.

Police had information about the matter and were waiting for either of the two parties to approach them for intervention, said the district police chief of Nankana.

“Our intelligence sources reported that no one in the villages had taken notice of Bashir’s claims, and there was no imminent threat of an attack on the Christians,” the chief, Kamran Yousaf, told Morning Star News.

He said police were closely monitoring the situation and were ready to intervene if necessary, but that it was better that the village council deal with the accuser.

On Sunday (June 14), a 30-member council comprising Christians and Muslims and headed by the Islamist leader, Rehmani, gathered at a local church in the village, where they asked Bashir to repeat his allegations and present witnesses and evidence against Qaiser. Bashir admitted that he had no case and apologized for trying to turn a monetary dispute into a religious issue.

Reform

Pakistan’s internationally condemned blasphemy statutes also are used to punish people whose psychological challenges cast doubt on whether they could intentionally blaspheme, and if so whether they legally could be held responsible.

In the Mehmoodabad area of Mirpur Khas in Sindh Province, Christians earlier this month abandoned their homes to escape possible Islamic attacks after a young Christian man who is said to be mentally challenged, Yaqoob Bashir, allegedly told local Muslims he had burned a copy of the Koran.

A mob gathered and threatened to set him on fire. Police took Bashir into custody, which saved his life, sources said.

Bashir’s neighbors said the accused frequently visited a Muslim cleric who told him that reciting koranic verses would help in treating his mental condition. Bashir on June 4 reportedly approached the cleric and sought a copy of the Koran. He then allegedly burned the Koran at his home and buried the ashes.

A case against Bashir was registered in the Mehmoodabad Police Station, where Bashir is said to have confessed and sought forgiveness. Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes require intent to be proven for conviction.

Another Christian said to be mentally unstable, Humayun Faisal, was accused of desecrating the Koran a couple of weeks earlier in Lahore. Faisal was immediately taken into custody, and a case was registered against him under Section 295-B for desecrating the Koran, but that did not stop Muslim mobs from rampaging in the Dhoop Sari area of Lahore where Faisal lives, source said.

Police and paramilitary troops averted major losses by baton-charging the crowds to bring calm.

In light of frequent abuses, the federal government has finished drafting of a bill to forestall abuse of the blasphemy statutes. Proposed by the Interior Ministry and vetted by the Law Ministry, the bill aims to keep anyone from taking the law into their own hands. According to a report by the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, 52 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered since 1990.

The bill also metes out harsh penalties for those who have levelled false accusations of blasphemy, according to officials.

A report in the Express Tribune cited a senior official at the Interior Ministry as saying that procedural loopholes in Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C, blaspheming Muhammad, have been identified and some new clauses incorporated into the bill. Speaking ill of the prophet of Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan.

According to the official, the new law would make it necessary to prove not just intent but “bad intent,” or mens rea, for conviction. Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be considered intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offense.

European countries’ concern over the rising tide of abuse of the blasphemy law is said to be a primary reason for the new legislation.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently reported that abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens. At least 14 people are on death row, and 19 others are serving life sentences, on blasphemy charges. Investigations have revealed that the reasons for the accusations often stem from personal enmity, property disputes and religious hatred.

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Comments

  1. I believed,the propose law reform will help the christains manorty in pakistan,as we all are confident by our own convertion of the God we serve,let people of pakistan leave vengeance with God,let us know that no one is able to take’s God place.

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