Pakistan Muslims accused of blasphemy

2012-10-01 12:02

Karachi — Pakistan's blasphemy laws may be used to punish Muslims suspected of ransacking a Hindu temple, an intriguing twist for a country where harsh laws governing religious insults are primarily used against supposed offenses to Islam, not minority faiths.

The blasphemy laws, sections of which carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, have drawn renewed international scrutiny this year after a young Christian girl in Islamabad was alleged to have desecrated the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.

A Muslim cleric now stands accused of fabricating evidence against the girl, who has been freed on bail and whose mental capacity has been questioned.

Police officer Mohammad Hanif said on Sunday the anti-Hindu attack took place on 21 September.

The government had declared that day a national holiday — a "Day of Love for the Prophet" — and called for peaceful demonstrations against an anti-Islam film made in the US that has sparked protests throughout the Muslim world.

Those rallies took a violent turn in Pakistan, and more than 20 people were killed.

Up to 10 years imprisonment

Hanif said dozens of Muslims led by a cleric converged on the outskirts of Karachi in a Hindu neighbourhood commonly known as Hindu Goth.

The protesters attacked the Sri Krishna Ram temple, broke religious statues, tore up a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, and beat up the temple's caretaker, Sindha Maharaj.

"The attackers broke the statues of [Hindu deities] Radha, Hanuman, Parwati and Krishna, and took away the decorative gold ornaments," Maharaj said. "They also stormed my home and snatched the gold jewellery of my family, my daughters."

Maharaj and other Hindu leaders turned to the police, who registered a case against the cleric and eight other Muslims. But none of the suspects had been found as of Sunday, police said.

Officials said the case against the attackers was registered under Section 295-A of the blasphemy laws, which covers the "outraging of religious feelings". That section of the law can apply to any religion and carries a fine or up to 10 years imprisonment.

The Asian subcontinent's British rulers originally framed blasphemy laws partly to prevent violence between Muslims and Hindus.

Vague laws

Muslim-majority Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947, and under the military rule of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, a fervent Islamist, the statutes covering blasphemy were toughened in the 1980s.

Area police chief Jaffer Baloch said authorities were simply considering the Hindus' complaint under the relevant section of the law.

Islam's Prophet Muhammad "teaches us to respect others' religions so that ours shall also be respected," he said. "Like us, Hindus have their own faith and religion and they do have sentiments for their Bhagavad and gods."

Human rights activists say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are too broad and vague, and are often used by people who are trying to settle scores with rivals or target religious minorities, who make up 5% of Pakistan's 180 million people.

Although many Muslims are accused of insulting Muhammad or other acts deemed blasphemous, minorities are disproportionately represented among the defendants, rights groups say.

Hindus and Christians are among prominent minorities who fear the blasphemy laws. Also frequently blamed for blasphemy are Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslims but are reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims.

Politicians assassinated

Pakistan is not known to have actually executed anyone for blasphemy, and while courts often set the accused free on technical grounds or other reasons, many extremists have killed people who were let go by judges.

Even speaking out against the blasphemy laws can put people in danger. Two prominent politicians, including the sole Christian member of the federal Cabinet, were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law.

The politicians, Punjab province Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, had spoken out in defence of Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Bibi, whose case prompted international criticism, is believed to be the first woman condemned to die under the statute and remains in prison.

The laws retain broad support in Pakistan, where Islamic conservatism is on the rise alongside extremism and Muslims are highly sensitive about their faith.

Taseer's killer, for instance, was hailed as a hero in many quarters. Thousands of people rallied to support him, and lawyers showered him with rose petals.


Many human rights activists, partly out of their own security concerns, have tempered their demands: Years ago, they used to call for the blasphemy laws' repeal, but now they say the laws should be reformed to prevent misuse.

Even leaders of minority religious groups have often said they support the law but simply do not want to see it abused.

Although there's no sign that the weak civilian government plans to amend the law, the case of the Christian girl has brought some hope that sentiments about it may change.

Even some Islamist clerics sympathised with the girl, whose age has been said to be 14 or younger and who may be developmentally disabled.

Witness claims that a Muslim cleric stashed pages of a Qur'an in the girl's bag to make it seem as if she burned them have added to the sympathy for her. The cleric is accused of planting the evidence to push Christians out of the neighbourhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He denies any wrongdoing.

Preparation for defence

Meanwhile, A Pakistani court on Monday adjourned a hearing for two weeks in the blasphemy case against the girl, her lawyer said.

Islamabad High Court postponed the proceedings until 17 October to study her petition to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

Lawyer Fazalur Rehman Niazi told dpa that he had asked the court for more time to prepare the defence.

  • rishaal.sewpaul - 2012-10-01 12:26

    Why must people try to impose themselves unto others.

      jaba.kov - 2012-10-01 13:58

      If tolerance simply means discouraging the mass slaughter of those of a different faith, then today's Islam generally meets this standard more often than not. But, if tolerance means allowing people of other faiths the same religious liberties that Muslims enjoy, then Islam is fundamentally the most intolerant religion under the sun.

  • eddy.deepfield - 2012-10-01 12:35

    This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves. ~ Robert G. Ingersoll You keep accusing me of blasphemy all of the time, but I cannot be convicted of a victimless crime. ~ Dan Barker To make sure that my blasphemy is thoroughly expressed, I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition, that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s), that devils, demons, angels and saints are myths, that there is no life after death, heaven nor hell, that the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and that the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place -- not to mention the “ethnic cleansing” presently being performed by Christians in our world -- and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women. ~ James Randi, challenging blasphemy laws in several US states

  • gieljam.gomtor - 2012-10-01 12:42

    Cut off their their beards but start in their crutches..

      derek.edwards.75491 - 2012-10-01 14:20

      How little you know about muslems. There is no hair down there. Aparrently allaha thinks body hair is dirty. some how a scraggley unkept beard is clean...

  • zaatheist - 2012-10-01 13:18

    More religious inspired violence - the daily atrocity committed by the adherents of Allah, Mo and the religion of peace. Religion is insanity. A sickness and a stain on humanity.

  • pdevillet.patrik - 2012-10-01 13:26

    toy-toying will never remove free speech....people fight very hard to get it and will even fight harder to keep it. spend your time at getting educated, instead of the bible ,koran or other similar old books,read Christofer Hitchen or Sam Harris to have a second opinion on religion. In the age of information,ignorance is a choice. Google is your friend.

  • jaba.kov - 2012-10-01 13:53

    One of the great ironies of Islam is that non-Muslims are to be treated according to the very standards by which Muslims themselves would claim the right to violent self-defense were the shoe on the other foot. Islam is its own justification. Most Muslims therefore feel no need to explain the ingrained arrogance and double standard. There are about 500 verses in the Quran that speak of Allah’s hatred for non-Muslims and the punishment that he has prepared for their unbelief. There is also a tiny handful that say otherwise, but these are mostly earlier verses that many scholars consider to be abrogated by the later, more violent ones.

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