Fears of death-only punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan

(Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Last month, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) of Pakistan ordered that the death penalty be the "only punishment for a blasphemer", and that life imprisonment be removed as an option.

"The Pakistani government has been given until next month to implement the order and time is running out if the decision is to be challenged," Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, told the ASSIST News Service.

He said that CLAAS - an abbreviation for the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance & Settlement - is concerned that if the order is followed, this law will become a Sharia law, causing many complications, and blasphemy cases will have to be heard in Shariah courts.

"The original order was made in 1990, but the government failed to implement the order and therefore 23 years later, once again the order is being reinforced," Saeed went on to say.

"It may be a coincidence, but both times the order has been made, it was during Nawaz Sharif's government. More than a month has passed since the decision and the time limit is approaching, but so far the government has taken no action."

Expressing his concern over the situation, Nasir Saeed added: "Non-Muslims will have to face some restrictions and achieving justice will be an even more difficult task for them if this order is followed.

"We all know the blasphemy laws are being misused to settle personal scores, and this will be taken to another height and victims from religious minorities will become defenseless and more vulnerable if it becomes Shariah law."

He concluded by saying, "There is a long standing demand of the Islamists that blasphemy cases should be heard by the Shariah Courts. The majority of Ulemas [The All Pakistan Ulema Council is a Muslim organization in Pakistan whose members include Islamic clerics and legal scholars from a range of Islamic traditions], consider it a bigger sin than apostasy.

"There are even some who believe that there is no need to register a case against a blasphemer and that culprits should be punished on the spot, with it being the duty of every Muslim to ensure this is done.

"This mentality could prove to be very dangerous for religious minorities and the implementation of the order could see a dramatic increase in incidents of public justice and vigilante killings."

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