Wednesday, August 5, 2009

016. Pakistan: blasphemy laws and impunity must end

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 016 | Wed 05 Aug 2009


Pakistan's infamous Blasphemy Laws (Articles 295 b and 295 c of the Penal Code) were introduced in the 1980s as the nation was undergoing a process of Islamisation under General Zia. Defiling of the Qur'an and blasphemy ('derogatory remarks') against Muhammad, the founder of Islam, are criminal offences punishable by life in prison or death. The blasphemy laws are frequently used as instruments of persecution, most commonly by Muslims with non-religious motives such as a desire to seize Christian land or close a Christian business. A simple uncorroborated accusation is enough to have the accused (who is guilty until proven innocent) removed through imprisonment or murder (honour killing).

As reported in RLPB 012, after a local Christian was falsely accused of blasphemy, a rampaging mob of some 600 armed Muslims looted and torched 110 homes belonging to Christians on the evening of 30 June 09 in Bahmani Wala, Punjab Province. A 'reconciliation' was brokered in which the Christian victims were encouraged not to press charges or protest, but to accept a 'compensation' payment. This was despite the fact that impunity only encourages more persecution.

On Sunday 26 July Muslims in the Punjabi village of Korian allegedly found pages of an Islamic book in a garbage tin outside a Christian's home. Police registered a case against the Christian. Muslims then rampaged against the local Christian community on the night of Thursday 30 July, torching 47 homes and forcing the village's 500 Christians to flee for their lives.

Also on 30 July, Muslims rioted against Christians in Gojra, a small city about 350km south-west of Islamabad in the Faisalabad region of Punjab Province, after a rumour spread that a Christian had desecrated a Qur'an. The accused Christian was arrested but subsequently released after an investigation cleared him of the charge. The next day (Friday) prayer leaders called through their mosque loudspeakers for every Christian to be killed. On Saturday 1 August, hundreds of militants armed with fuel and weapons flooded in from Jhang, a neighbouring district that is a militant stronghold. When about a thousand Muslims had gathered in Gojra, they advanced on the Christian colony. Before long, one church and at least 40 homes were in flames, six Christians had been burnt to death and two more were fatally shot. Numerous other Christians are wounded, many with burns. Christians say the police ignored their pleas for help.

Dotted with fundamentalist madrassas, the Faisalabad region is a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League led by former premier Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan People's Party, which leads the government in Islamabad, draws most of its support in Gojra from minority communities. Investigations by Asia Times Online confirmed that the attackers came from two distinct groups: Muslim clerics and militants, and non-political activists including traders' associations. It appears likely that a false blasphemy accusation was made against Christians by Muslims with vested political, land or business interests. After a rudimentary investigation cleared the accused Christians, Islamic fundamentalists and militants moved to exploit the heightened Islamic zeal and social tension for their own ends.

Justice is imperative if the pogroms are to be stemmed. Concerning the Gojra pogrom, Bishop Almas Hameed Masih has registered with the police a complaint case against 800 unknown and 15 named individuals. It includes the province's administration which failed to protect the Christian community despite advance warnings that a murderous pogrom was being planned. Also at the behest of the Pakistan Christian Congress, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Lahore has agreed to conduct an investigation into the 30 June pogrom against Christians in Bahmani Wala.


* Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws will be repealed.

* impunity will end, and those who have made false accusations, those who have incited violence and those who have perpetrated violence will be identified and prosecuted according to the rule of law.

* Pakistan's Muslim masses will reject the sectarian incitement of Islamic fundamentalists and militants, opting instead for peace.

* God will protect his vulnerable, embattled Church in Pakistan and give deep peace and comfort to those who are grieving and living in fear; may he be their provider and the Rock of their Refuge in these troubled and frightening times.

'I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.' (Psalm 61:2b NIV)



Pakistan's infamous Blasphemy Laws (Articles 295 b & c of the Penal Code) deem defilement of the Qur'an and blasphemy against Muhammad as criminal offences punishable by life in prison or death. The blasphemy laws are frequently exploited for personal gain and false accusations are frequently made to effect the removal of a person who is unwanted for any reason. As Islamic fundamentalism spreads, more Muslims are responding to incitement from the mosques and engage in appalling violence against local Christians over rumours of blasphemy. Impunity is adding fuel to the fire. In just over a month, three pogroms in Punjab Province have left hundreds of Christian families homeless and feeling very insecure. In Gojra, eight Christians were murdered: two shot and six burnt to death. Please pray for God to intervene in Pakistan.