Blasphemy law: An apparatus to sustain tyranny

Published: November 23, 2010

The case of Asia Bibi, falsely accused of blasphemy, has garnered international attention.

In Pakistan, if you have a land dispute, political rivalry, or just personal or professional jealousy or economic rivalry with someone and you are bent on settling your score, then teaching them a lesson is easier than you think.

You can make your enemies regret every day they have ever lived, especially if they are non-Muslims, Ahmadis, Zionists or “Hindu Zionists”. Although in Pakistan it may seem convenient to hire an assassin or kill them yourself – but why do things ‘illegally’ when you can destroy their lives ‘legally’ with popular support?

All it takes is a false accusation of blasphemy and propagandist newspapers like Ummat and Nawai Waqt will rally behind you, people on the street will burn and destroy public property in your support, the influential Islamic political parties of Pakistan will back you up.

Examples of false accusations which have been used are accusing someone of burning Quran, using pages from the Quran to clean toilets, vilifying Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and defending someone who has purportedly committed blasphemy. All of these involve direct desecration but accusations can be subtle.  Even people challenging an interpretation of an Islamic text can be subject to the same treatment, all thanks to the so called ‘blasphemy law’ of Pakistan. This savage and oppressive blasphemy law is part of the Criminal Code of Pakistan; it has two sections namely Section 295 and Section 298. By law, only one witness is required to give testimony for these ‘crimes.’

A history of abuse

Thanks to this law, many people have been subject to severe treatment. According to a researcher, Mansoor Raza, between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people, of which 50 per cent were non-Muslim, with offences under the blasphemy laws. In the past decade, perhaps 2,000 Ahmadis have been charged under the blasphemy law, according to the Ahmadi community. The issue is so sensitive that some people choose to stay in jail fearing public backlash which can also take the form of lynching. Zaibun Nisa, charged with desecrating the Quran, was arrested in 1996 without a trial. Soon after she was declared mentally ill but was not released until recently.

Government authorities make arrests to defuse tensions and prefer to keep the ‘blasphemer’ in jail. In some cases landlords have accused or threatened to accuse Christians to exploit debt/labour bondage arrangements. Ayub Massih, a Christian convicted of blasphemy, used to work as a farmer for a local landlord in exchange for a place to live. When he applied for government allotted housing which would have freed him of his obligation, the landlord filed charges against him for blasphemy. A human rights activist and Roman Catholic Bishop, John Joseph tried to find a lawyer willing to represent him but ended up taking his own life in the end when he realised he couldn’t help Ayub Massih anymore.

Another more dangerous form of retaliation is by militant Islamic organisations. Sipah-e-Sahaba has been involved in violence against Christians, which has also involved torching Christian homes. Even in the secured confines of a prison the ‘blasphemers’ are not entirely safe. Samuel Masih was arrested for spitting on a wall of a mosque. Later, a police constable used a hammer to kill Masih claiming that it was his divine duty to do so.

The defendants of blasphemers are also subject to the same ire whether it be lawyers, activists, or even judges. Judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti was assassinated in 1997 after he acquitted two people accused of blasphemy.

Renewed attention

Currently, the case of Aasia Bibi, falsely accused of blasphemy, has garnered international attention. Major domestic and international organisations have called for repealing this barbaric law which is being routinely used to persecute minorities and settle personal grudges. Will Aasia Bibi receive a pardon? Will Pakistan repeal the blasphemy law?

Even if she does get a presidential pardon, Aasia Bibi will surely be targeted by the zealot mob and will probably have to move to another country. But the blasphemy law is unlikely to be repealed anytime soon.

This is because influential Islamists and landowners exploit this law to their own advantage and the Pakistani army (establishment) need this law to advance their foreign policy objectives.

Blasphemy law: A gift from the army

This blasphemy law is a gift to the Pakistani people from its army when it ceded to the demands of Saudi Arabia in return for financial and political support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In return for Saudi money, Saudi cooperation in the development of Madrassas and spread of Ahle Hadith ideology, all required to build motivation to fight the Soviets, Pakistan imported the Hudood Ordinance and the current blasphemy law.

Apart from appeasing Saudi Arabia, these laws are also mainly to please Islamic militant allies such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed who have been important foreign policy tools against India. The introduction of these laws ensures that the mullahs will stay on board on foreign as well as domestic security issues.

Revoking the blasphemy law will undermine Pakistan’s policy of disruption of peace in Afghanistan and its militant support against archrival India. It is obvious that in order for the blasphemy law to be revoked a change in foreign policy is required. Once the foreign policy has changed, the Pakistani army can face the opposition from mullahs and militants since it will no longer need them to attain its goals.

Therefore, the debate against the ruthless blasphemy laws must take into account this crucial aspect of foreign policy that helps to sustain the national security state of Pakistan.


Anas Abbas

A UK based financial analyst, researcher and blogger with interests in counter-terrorism, history and philosophy

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Atif S Ahmad

    Good one – Justified – Keep up the good work – Though I’m afraid you will be termed as KAFIR very soon for not listing Ahmadis as non-muslims –

    God Bless you – Pakistan need more people like you to save it from further extremism !!Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    In Pakistan reactionary forces are at the forefront to display their “love” for their Prophet and Islam by summarily executing people. I am not sure that condemnation, social ostresization and outright murder holds much currency on the day of judgement, but then again I am no expert. Islam has a long history of tolerance and shunning bigotry. The Holy Prophets and the four Caliphs behaviour is littered with examples of tolerance, empathy and most importantly perhaps forgiveness. That the law of the land is so easily exploited by those who want to serve their interests, is a blatant exploitation of Islam for personal gain. It is repugnant to the core, and for those who argue a blasphemer should be killed, perhaps offering guidance, information and forgiving their transgression is something closer to what the Holy Prophet would have done Himself.Recommend

  • Talha

    Jinnah would be rolling in his grave right now, these nonsense laws, the intolerance, bigotry and persecution by the same people who thought they would be persecuted in India is just ironic.

    How low have we gone that today disgust and contempt are the only thing that comes to mind when we hear news from Pakistan.

    A nation made for Muslims, destroyed by Muslims.Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza

    Bhutto initiated it – Zardari should end it :)Recommend

  • parvez

    Blasphemy law : A gift from the army. The way this is put by you is a bit melodramatic.
    This law was already on the books in 1927 as a harmless piece of legistlation.
    Its misuse later is another story.

    I like your attempt to link this law with our foreign policy – original thinking.Recommend

  • Mahmood Hussain

    Blasphemy law in the land of Blind culture. where their own books full of tuheen e Risaalat in the name of “masaail e shareit”. Recommend

  • Omar bin Abdulaziz

    Where were these writers when Dr Aafia Siddiqui was being sentenced???
    Or are the their opinions only against Muslims???Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Great piece………..Recommend

  • Talat Haque

    Good analysis ……….. agree with the article ……….. the army can undo what they did ……… but they will do it only when it suits them ………… its the way of all power politics !Recommend

  • Talha

    @ Omar bin Abdulaziz

    I don’t see any similarities between an innocent poor Christian women accused of blasphemy and a known terrorist who was involved in serious criminal activity.Recommend

  • faraz

    You are right, mulllah-military alliance is at the core of all this bigotry. Recommend

  • faraz

    @Omar bin Abdulaziz

    Its not about Islam and Christianity or East and West. Both Aafia and Aasia are Pakistani nationals. In both cases, the problem lies within us. In case of Aafia, our agencies handed her over to US. If Aafia isnt a US national, she should have been prosecuted according to Pakistani law if there was any evidence against her. And in case of Aasia, she is being persecuted because she isnt a muslim. This Blasphemy law is an insult to Islam. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very good article, we need someone like Ataturk, these midgets can’t do nothing.Recommend

  • Ali

    The roots of anti blasphemy lies in Quran and Islamic history.Please go and read the Quran correctly. There is no point blaming mullahs or the elected representatives or the military for that matter.Recommend

  • Shahbaz

    Nicely written almost 90 % agreed,,,,,,,,Recommend

  • Masood

    The foreign policy has already changed. The wrong policy of breeding terrorists on our soil and then sending them to foreign lands have already stopped (apparently?). The internal policies must be changed as well and we need to get rid of all these draconian laws which were created in the holy name of Islam.

    Only an idiot and jahil brain washed mullah can support such non Islamic laws which have no basis in Quran or Sunnah. They are doing nothing but creating bad name to Pakistan and Islam and making lives of Pakistanis miserable.

    All I need to bring you down is to accuse you of blasphemy and let the wrath of public deal with you. Not only we need to get rid of these laws, we need a state sponsored education program to counter these un islamic and barbaric ideologies to end. The same way dictator Zia used his rule to brain wash people in thinking this is Islam! It is NOT! It’s a long way to go but it has to start some where?Recommend

  • Sana Saleem

    Great Work !

    There is a Great need on improve on the laws.Until the accused confesses the crime or unless there are not enough witnesses, judgment shouldn’t be given.Recommend

  • mir liyaqat

    Respected writer, I think to blame Mullah Military alliance will not yield anything in totality. It was better to highlight directionless education system of pakistan which is responsible for this mayhem weather it is corruption or religous consertavism. The blasphemy laws have been there before the birth of pakistan but you need diagnosis time to time about the law. Because in most cases it has been found that the law has been used as a weapon by some fanaticas to take avenge against the minority community. Here it needs ammendmend so that no body can misuse it, but if somebody has confessed guility or has proven guility by a probe then he should be send to gallows. It is realy unfortunate that the elite in pakistan have taken cudgels on the behalf of Asia bebee but their conscious remaind dumb and dead when Dr Afiya was handed over to the u.s and when she was sentenced to life imprisonment in a babricated case. That time no hue and cry was made by those champion of human rights, who are too much vocal in this case may be they will get round of applause and also dollars from the west. Thus where lies the flaw definetly in education system which have shaped our dull mindset. Recommend

  • nadfa

    Please dont call this law savage or barbaric etc. Punishment is not proportionate. It was a law like any other one that prohibited insulting behaviour and hate speech but Zia gave it a form that is actually giving Islam a bad name.

    Also be careful while saying a thing about laws. Sections 295 and 298 (of Pakistan Penal Code, not the Criminal Procedure Code) deal with various aspects of desecration of religion but the Blasphemy Law is only 295 C of PPC which carries mandatory death penalty.Recommend

  • Khurram Aziz Shah

    Can someone put light over the word of Islam regarding the blasphemous acts?Recommend

  • Anoop

    Its not about the law, its about the Constitution. The law exists because the Constitution of Pakistan allows it.

    You have to get at the root cause.

    Homosexuality was banned in India. Thanks to the liberal constitution of India, that was overruled by the Supreme Court which said it was against the Constitution and amounted to discrimination of gays.

    The law has to be removed in 2 possible ways.

    The Government will never touch this as it will turn the radicals against it and its profitable for any leader to ignore this law than to act on removing it..

    The Supreme Court can overrule this provided it goes against the Constitution. But, it cannot overrule it because the Constitution declares Pakistan as Islamic.

    This law is here to stay, unless the Constitution of Pakistan is modified, which again is very unlikely.Recommend

  • Raqib Ali

    I believe that blasphemy laws have too strict punishment. It should not have more than 2 years punishment for those guilty (even Israel gave 2 years to a woman who wrote something against prophet Mohammad for creating ‘hatred’.

    Anas Abbas and I have long been supporters of Israeli model. Lets not blame Israel and Zionists for everything!Recommend

  • BaKhabar

    Great work.

    The writer is absolutely right when he says that Pakistani militants are a FOREIGN policy tools against INDIA. Instead of blaming ‘Hindu-Zionists’, we should blame ‘AHLE-HADITH’ Conspirators who forced Pakistan Army to adopt these cruel laws. Recommend

  • maheen usmani

    Linking of the draconian blasphemy law to the Saudis and our mullahs, militants, army and foreign policy makes this blog a fascinating and informative read. Taking into account Anas Abbas’ analysis, it seems that any repeal of this abhorrent piece of legislation is truly a gargantuan task. The question remains… who will bell this cat? Recommend

  • Averroes

    so because this writer couldn’t or didn’t voice concern against Dr Afia (i never checked hoping Omar did his bg research) that somehow de-legitimises any valid concern this writer may bring-forth. @Omar bin Abdulaziz: Recommend

  • Badar

    @Atif S Ahmad:
    blasphemy law of the Saudis and our mullahs, militants, army and foreign policy…plz take it seriously.Recommend

  • Saad

    Express News group has something in common or share common interests with the Ahmadis (Mirzais) and don’t miss any opportunity to raise their voice??? May it be an article below or Mubashar Luqman’s Program!!!! Plus its not the right time to debate on the Blasphemy law as we are already covered with so many issues that we need to resolve them first before doing more blunders!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the major two issues are Terrorism and Food for poor to make them live and not to die of disappointment!!!Recommend

  • Scoala de soferi

    I’m a catholic, I’m sure I’m not the best, but surely not the worst. Religion should be about worshipping GOD, not about killing people for what they may say or think, or about Who they worship. I truly don’t care if your Muslim, Buddist, Jewish or any other Belief. Believing is what we should focus on. Not killing, bombing, or just plain hurting each other because we Believe in different religions.
    GROW UP! You’re not helping, show some HUMANITY!Recommend

  • Saad

    Totally agreed my friend!! Drone attacks Killed on Record 2000 Plus Innocent Civilian men women and children!! with may be below hundred so called terrorists being killed?? Drone Attacks are happening everyday. Isnt it? So isnt that more important issue of the day to be taken care of as compared to changing constitution or Laws?Recommend

  • Syed Khyrat Hussain

    We must exercise our life in true spirite under Islam. Latest news and update is seen on following link. Please read it.