Pakistan: Urgent need to repeal Blasphemy Laws
This violence was precipitated by an event at a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009, when a few Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. Muslim and Christian community leaders stepped in to resolve this conflict and requested that the accused apologize. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages began spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burned Christians’ houses. As the rumour of this blasphemy proliferated, the hostility towards Christians escalated in the district.
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men, attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings (cash, gold jewelry, T.V., air conditioning unit, computer, etc.) were taken and two churches were ransacked. The policemen present did not try to control the mob.
HOTLINE ASIA has issued an urgent appeal to end this continuous violence against the religious minorities that has followed these events.
Local human rights organizations are joining with religious minorities in order to pressure the government into eliminating the discriminatory Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. The leadership of the Catholic and Protestant Churches are drafting an appeal to the authorities requesting that the Blasphemy Laws be repealed, since these laws infringe upon the community’s right to freedom of religion. The National Commission for Justice and Peace has launched a petition to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, which will continue until mid-September 2009, and aims to collect over 300,000 signatures. Below is the text of this petition issued on August 25, 2009:
NCJP initiates Signature Campaign for the repeal of Blasphemy laws
The national commission for justice and peace, a human rights body of the Catholic church has started collecting signatures for the repeal of sections 295 B, C and 298 A, B and C of Pakistan (blasphemy laws). Making a reference to violent attack on religious minorities in Kasur, Gojra and other places, the campaign Appeal seeks an immediate repeal of blasphemy laws. Earlier in 2000 NCJP launched a signature campaign for the restoration of joint electorate in Pakistan and collected around 200000 signatures. We are expecting more than that, this time.
In a joint statement by Archbishop, Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, the Chairperson and the Executive Secretary said that successive governments have failed to take a serious notice of the misuse of the law; the procedural amendments to registration of cases have failed too. Therefore the repeal is the only solution to these flowed and presumptuous laws. They urged the parliament to repeal blasphemy laws since they are source of promoting religious intolerance and disharmony among the citizens.
The recent incident in Gojra is an example of abuse of the Blasphemy Laws and its far-reaching consequences; it has been abused to justify violence on the others. NCJP call upon the fellow citizens to understand effects of these sections on the society. The incidents over past 20 years have shown that a large number of Muslims have also become victims of these laws and suffered, therefore the situation demands a serious and long term remedy.
According to data collected by NCJP, from 1986 to August 2009, at least 964 persons were alleged under this law. 479 of these were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 were unknown. About 32 persons have been extra judicially murdered by the angry mob or an individual, the statement added.
Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha
To add your name to the SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN FOR THE TOTAL REPEAL OF BLASPHEMY LAW, email: email@example.com
Pakistan Penal Code was Islamicized in the 1980s during General Zia ul Haq’s regime in order to defend the honor of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophet of Islam, His wives and other Holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blashpemy Laws, have become convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate.
Due to the ambiguity of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims suffered. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986. More than 100 cases of these charges were acquitted, as they were manifestedly lodged to persecute the accused for their religious beliefs and allegedly for financial or personal gains of the complainants. Consequently, a former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he has acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimize their violence.
The Judicial System
In most of the cases of violence against religious minorities, police and local administration failed to act efficiently despite prior notice of tensions and rumors. It is also a trend that the culprits were never brought to justice after massive violent attacks inflicted on minorities. One of the reasons is intimidation of witnesses, which became more effective after 1990, when an Islamic provision was passed that allowed criminals to settle their crimes with victims’ families outside the court. According to Tahir Wasti, a former legal adviser to the Punjab provincial government, it gave a frightened family even greater incentive not to go through the pain of a prosecution. The provision has shaken the whole criminal justice system and encouraged all the criminals to use these loopholes to kill accusers, witnesses and whoever they wanted. Moreover, amid the hatred towards religious minorities, police was unwilling to irritate the religious extremists and reluctant to protect the victims.
Pakistan is passing through a very critical period, especially concerning its war against extremism. There is a military action continuing in North Western Frontier Province and its tribal areas (Swat, Malakand, South Wazirastan and Bannu district). According to the source, militant groups were entwined with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and criminal gangs with international ambitions. The mix of violent crime and religious rhetoric is perpetuated by the failure of legal and judicial system, which should be overhauled as soon as possible. Abolition of the Blasphemy Laws is an essential step, first, to remove the excuse of criminals to justify their violence, and secondly, to show the political determination of the government to root out religious extremism in the country.
Source: Hotline Asia
Subject: Urgent call to Pakistan to repeal its Blasphemy Laws
We join local human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities in calling for Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.
The urgent need for law reform has been highlighted by the recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan. At a wedding in Korian village near Gojra in Punjab province, on 24 July 2009, it was reported that a group of Muslims accused three Christians of tearing up paper on which Quranic verses were written. It is reported that on the following day, at a meeting held by Muslim and Christian elders called one of the accused was invited to offer an apology over the incident, and the issue of desecration was resolved with his apology. Then on 30 July, the clerics of mosques in Korian and nearby villages began spreading allegations of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting an attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of hundreds descended on Korian and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burned Christians’ houses.
On the evening of 31 July 2009, Muslim clerics announced from the mosques a strike in response to the alleged desecration of the Quran by Christians, and asked Muslims to assemble at Malkanwala Chowk in Gojra. On the morning of 1st August, the local Muslim clerics led a procession to the Christian colony in Gojra. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men (reportedly belonging to a banned fundamentalist organization, Sipah-i-Sahaba), attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, was shot, while the residents’ belongings were stolen and two churches were ransacked.
It has been reported by the Hotline Asia project that policemen present on the scene did not try to control the violent mob. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. Rather it is the victim of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness, that faces punishment. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.
In 2002 Women's Action Forum (Lahore) demanded the government of Pakistan to repeal the Blasphemy Laws after Rukhsana Bunyad, a local social activist and district councillor, was charged under these laws for having allegedly made remarks against the Holy Quran.
The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to spread fear and terror… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with." Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.
In the short period between May 2005 and February 2006 at least 7 churches, a college of the Christian community, a place of worship of Ahmadis, a Temple of Hindus and 3 hospitals of the Christian community were destroyed in various provinces and cities; a Hindu couple, accused of blasphemy, lost their property; 10 persons belonging to religious minorities were killed, 27 individuals were booked under blasphemy laws; and hundreds were harassed and injured by fanatics in different incidents. Furthermore, Ahmadis, (a sect of Islam banned in Pakistan where its members are seen as apostates), are forbidden from praying in mosques or reading from the Quran and they must vote under a separate electoral system. The attack on Christians of Gojra happened within a month of attacks on Christians in Kasur district where about one hundred houses were damaged. During the last year there has been highest increase of threats against religious minorities in Pakistan and Minority Rights Group International, a London-based watchdog organization, ranks Pakistan as the world's sixth- most dangerous country for minorities.
We respectfully ask you to further investigate and address two points: firstly the violent persecution of this Christian community in the Punjab in July 2009, and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the violent crimes committed against its members, and secondly to join us in calling for the urgent repeal of Blasphemy Laws on the grounds that they excuse violence and repression and lead to impunity.