Blasphemy laws - the all time threat for the Christians of Pakistan

AP
Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamat-i-Islami rally demanding the execution of Christian woman Asia Bibi in Karachi, Pakistan on Thursday, December 9, 2010.

The life has not been easy for the minorities and for the Christians of Pakistan, especially after what the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) ordered on 4 December 2013 with regard to the punishment in the blasphemy offence.

It was first in 1990 that the FSC ordered to abolish the life imprisonment in the blasphemy offence, and only to give death sentence. This time, the FSC has given the time frame of two months to the government to implement the decision, as it was not be implemented in 1990 or afterwards.

Before this order, history gives account of the cases in which those implicated in the blasphemy charges have been killed extra-judicially. The research conducted by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) reveals that since 1990, 52 people charged with blasphemy have been murdered. Out of these, 25 were Muslims, 15 were Christians.

The manipulation of the blasphemy laws after the implementation of the FSC order will further harden the lives of the minorities in a country where religion dominates in all spheres of life.

Not all the blasphemy cases have been able to draw the international attention like the one of minor Christian girl Rimsha Masih in August 2012. The 14-year-old girl was acquitted and her family had fled to Canada, as their lives would have been in jeopardy, if they had lived in Pakistan.

Society has no place for those who are even acquitted by the court. They rather like to decide the fate of those who are accused or acquitted in their own way, which is either further persecution or more likely killing them.

I still remember the tears and lamentation of the Christians living in the neighborhood of Rimsha, who were forced by the Muslims to leave that area. To accomplish their plan to expel the Christians, they used Rimsha, who was reported to have a lower mental age, and couldn't have done of what she was accused of - that is, to burn the pages of the Holy Koran. Later on, the investigations showed that Imam Khalid Chishti, the religious cleric of the area's mosque put those burnt pages in Rimsha's bag.

I also visited that area few times to make a report and saw the hatred in the local residents against the Christians. The message of burning the Christians' home was also delivered by the same cleric in his sermons. However, the acquittal of Rimsha is testament to the fact that how this law is abused by the majority to endanger and put at stake the lives of the minorities.

Sarmad Ali, an advocate of the Pakistani High Court and columnist shares concern about how difficult it is becoming for the minorities to live in Pakistan in the years to come. "I think that Pakistan is an intolerant society where there is no space left for non Muslims, which is alarming," he said.

I also asked him about the order of the FSC with regard to death sentence, to which he replied: "I think the blasphemy laws should be removed from the law books. I condemn the death penalty in any case. Let us make Pakistan a country where people belonging to different faiths can have space and contradict to each other."

The blasphemy laws have already made the lives of the Christians dangerous and uncertain. Important to mention here is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been imprisoned over charges of blasphemy since 2009.

Over the last few years, the repeated blasphemy charges over the Christians have become one of the primary reasons of their exodus from the country. Mostly those who have left Pakistan suspected that in the years to come, anyone of them could also be a victim of the offence they have never thought of committing.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, a lawyer and author of the book "Jinnah: Myth and Reality", believes that the blasphemy laws have contributed over the years to exacerbate religious intolerance and hatred towards the minorities. "The Minorities have been completely marginalised as no quid pro quo. At the very least minorities should have been exempt from operation of this law - if this is a community specific law," said Hamdani. He also mentioned that there is no future of the minorities in this country, until and unless the blasphemy laws are repealed or altered.

What the government decides about the FSC order will not be known until 4 February . However, the incidents of burnings and the mob attacks on the Christians villages and residents was mostly the aftermath of the blasphemy charges by the perpetrators, reveal that the laws themselves are not responsible of such occurrences as much as the mentality. It's just the mindset, which uses these laws to harass, persecute and to settle personal scores, and they are not afraid to take the law in their hands. Unless the approach changes, it's very difficult to imagine that the law would be ever used rightly. Thus t's implications would always be ambiguous.

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