Freedom of speech and blasphemy | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Freedom of speech and blasphemy

Pakistan Press Foundation

Foe few weeks a serious issue, ‘blasphemy’, was the talk of the town. Pakistan had apparently succeeded in stopping the contest of Blasphemous Caricature which was to be held in Holland organised by Geert Wilders.

Blasphemy law is a law limiting the freedom of speech and expression relating to blasphemy, or irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, or beliefs.

The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognised religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1987 to 2014 over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy, Muslims constitute the majority of those booked under these laws.

Over 60 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over, and prominent figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated. Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations.

According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks and rioting. Critics complain that Pakistan’s blasphemy law “is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas,” but calls for change in the blasphemy laws have been strongly resisted by Islamic parties. Blasphemy law sometimes has also been used wrongly in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s laws became particularly severe between 1980 and 1986, when a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, to “Islamicise” the laws and deny the Muslim character of the Ahmadi minority. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported.

Cases under blasphemy law have also been registered against Muslims who have harassed non-Muslims.

By its constitution, the official name of Pakistan is the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” More than 96% of Pakistanis are Muslims. Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. By the constitution (Article 2), Islam is the state religion. By the constitution’s Article 31, it is the country’s duty to foster the Islamic way of life. By Article 33, it is the country’s duty to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among the citizens. Under Article 10A of constitution it is also the state’s duty to provide for the right of fair trial. Section 295 and 298 with its sub sections of Pakistan Penal Code particularly deals with blasphemy.

The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) is a religious body which rules on whether any particular law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.

Pakistan’s opposition to blasphemy has caused Pakistan to be active in the international arena in promoting global limitations on freedom of religion or belief and limitations on freedom of expression. In March 2009, Pakistan presented a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva which calls upon the world to formulate laws against the defamation of religion.

In May 2010, Pakistan blocked access to Facebook because the website hosted a page called Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Pakistan lifted the block after Facebook prevented access to the page. In June 2010, Pakistan blocked seventeen websites for hosting content that the authorities considered offensive to Muslims. At the same time, Pakistan began to monitor the content of Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail, and Bing. There is ban on Facebook in China, Iran and North Korea while Bangladesh and Malaysia has censorship on it. So, it can be done without hurting anyone’s emotions.

On 19 March 2014, Pakistani newspaper, “The Nation”, conducted a poll of its readers that showed 68% of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed.

On the other hand, the International Crisis Group reports that the Islamic parties are most successful in galvanising street power when the goal is narrowly linked to obstructing reforms to discriminatory religious laws that often provoke sectarian violence and conflict and undermine the rule of law and constitutionalism.

Arrests and death sentences issued for blasphemy laws in Pakistan go back to the late 1980s and early 90s. Despite the implementation of these laws, no one has yet been executed by the order of the courts or governments as to date, only imprisoned to await a verdict or killed at the hands of felons who were convinced that the suspects were guilty.

Christians and Muslims in Pakistan condemned Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code as blasphemous. On 3 June 2006, Pakistan banned the film. Culture Minister Ghulam Jamal said: “Islam teaches us to respect all the prophets of God Almighty and degradation of any prophet is tantamount to defamation of the rest.”

The fabricated cases for personal gain are also used sometimes. So, close scrutiny should be conducted so that only culprits are punished. According to Article 19 of 1973 Constitution, freedom of expression is allowed to every Pakistani but not at the cost of derogation of religion, defence and peace of the country.

Some things should be done by state that all religious institutions and mosques of the country should be under state control as in Turkey and Friday Sermons Should also be issued by state. All Imams and Qaris should also be employees of the state. No one should be allowed to take law into his own hands and iron hand should be used in this respect if needed.

During last government’s era, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui compelled the government to take this thing seriously and then Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has rightly addressed the issue of ‘Objectionable Content’ on social media by a move to devise Muslim World plan against blasphemous content.

The present government should also involve OIC and Arab League including sixty Muslim Countries in it and UNO platform should be used to assert on the issue. Moreover, if there is ban even on the talk of Holocaust in the West so the blasphemy should also be considered seriously. West is not aware of the sensitivity of blasphemy issue but we have to make them realise that they thus are playing with the fire which can gulp the peace of the world. .As a Muslim, we all are liable to condemn it and liable to ban it if needed. Moreover, as a Muslim State no compromise should be made on the sanctity of Islam, Prophet(PBUH) or any other prophet and religion.

The writer is medical doctor by profession and a content writer, freelance writer

and a poet. He is a motivational speaker and columnist and has written for a number of English dailies like Dawn, Express Tribune, The Business and The Educationist etc. He is also Alumni of LUMS and doctor at CMH Hospital.

The Nation