Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan Lead to Persecution, Violence Against Religious Minorities

Rimsha Masih, a 14 year old Christian girl, has been in a Pakistani jail since August 16 charged with the crime of blasphemy.  Sighted holding a burned copy of a Muslim religious textbook, she was taken into police custody for her own safety after a local Muslim cleric, Khalid Jadoon, provoked the townspeople into a frenzy.    Protesters stormed the jail where Ms. Masih and her mother were being held and did not relent until police agreed to charge the girl with blasphemy.  In Pakistan it is illegal to desecrate a Muslim holy text; the offense is punishable by death.

Last week, lawyers applied for the release of Ms. Masih arguing for her exemption from the strict blasphemy laws based on the weight of her young age and a medical board finding which established that she suffers from mental disability.  Due to her age, disability, and complete lack of evidence establishing how the damaged book even came into her possession, senior government and police officials are predicting that the case will ultimately be dropped.  This provides little comfort, however, because it is highly unlikely that she will be able to return to her village.  For her own protection she will most likely be forced to leave in exile.

Human rights activists are using Ms. Masih’s case as their latest round of ammunition to force change to the blasphemy laws which they claim have commonly been used by powerful Muslim clerics to persecute religious minorities and others against whom the clerics may hold grudges since the laws went into effect during the British colonial era.

Calling for this change is not without its risks, however.  The issue is one of the greatest dividing lines splitting the Pakistani people today.  In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, then governor of the Punjab Province, was brutally shot to death by his own bodyguard for speaking out in favor of changing the blasphemy laws.  Non-Muslims have historically been exposed to oppression in Pakistan but protecting the oppressed is finally becoming too much for the state to handle.  Authorities are routinely forced to file blasphemy charges against religious minorities to keep them and the officers attempting to protect them safe from unruly mobs.  Capitulation does not always have the desired appeasing effect, however.  In July a mob stormed a police station holding a prisoner charged with blasphemy.  The people dragged the man from the building, beat him to death, and burned his body outside the station.

Are blasphemy laws outdated in twenty-first century society?  Should Pakistani Muslims be forced to amend their traditions to protect religious minorities in the country?  What can be done, if anything, to protect oppressed people without demanding that a culture change its laws?

SOURCE:  Christian Girl’s Blasphemy Arrest Incites a Furor in Pakistan

SOURCE:  Lawyers Seek the Release of a Christian Girl Charged With Blasphemy in Pakistan

2 comments

  1. Blasphemy laws are outdated in 21st century society. As long as blasphemy laws exist, zealous religious believers will deem their violent actions acceptable. If there are laws against blasphemy punishable by death, religious zealots will see no problem with taking matters into their own hands, or forcing the police to charge others will blasphemy. The fact that there was this much outcry against a teenage girl with a mental disability who was merely seen with a burned book in her hand exemplifies the horrid nature of these laws – innocent people are being punished by death (or in this case perhaps exile) all in the name of religion, with no purpose other than to silence those who have different opinions. More astounding is that countries fail to learn from history’s mistakes. Nothing is accomplished for one’s own religion by killing others in the name of that religion. Instead, that religion is looked on with disdain, as innocent lives are being taken for no purpose, at least in my mind. Perhaps this is just a rant from an American, who idealizes the U.S. Constitution, but to kill another person because of their blasphemous statements is disgusting and dishonorable, and people in all places –religious countries included- should let people worship in their own ways, and punish the people who impede freedom of religion instead.

  2. I agree with Alison that blasphemy laws are outdated in 21st century society. Authorities in Pakistan are forced to file blasphemy charges against religious minorities to protect them from violent mobs. But, what are the authorities doing about these mobs? Are they imposing punishments for them? As long as blasphemy remains a punishable crime, religious majorities will continue to have power over religious minorities. We are in the 21st century, where everyone should be allowed to worship who they wish without being dragged outside and beaten to death by unruly mobs. It is a shame that a fourteen year-old girl with a mental disability was even arrested in the first place. The Pakistani authorities say that the charges will probably be dropped, but this is not good news for Rimsha Masih. She can never return to her village if she wants to remain alive, because she is now labeled a blasphemer. She must face exile, all for holding a burned book. I think that authorities need to start looking to control these mobs, creating new laws, and abolishing old ones such as blasphemy.

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