Pakistan: “It is time for the judiciary to address incompetence and prejudice within its own ranks”

Ali Dayan Hasan, Senior South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, spoke to Raza Rumi about the blasphemy law.

What is your position on the blasphemy law and how is it viewed internationally?

The blasphemy law is a blot on Pakistan and brings disrepute to Islam. It is precisely the kind of law that reinforces, with good reason, negative stereotypes of Pakistan and Muslims. Because it is justified in the name of religion, it is difficult to explain to the world that this is a law imposed by a military dictatorship in the ‘80s for cynical political purposes and does not enjoy any “divine” sanction. It is our view that Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which include the blasphemy law, should be repealed forthwith. The obscene consequences of these laws have been evident for decades through the continued criminalization and persecution of those the state ought to actually be protecting and failure to repeal makes successive governments, and the state itself, complicit in heinous discrimination and egregious human rights abuse.

But a substantial body of religious scholars argues that the blasphemy law is in keeping with Islamic jurisprudence…

It is interesting that political actors operating in the name of Islam, such as the Sunni Tehreek, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI, take this position. They are cynically exploiting religion and encouraging social persecution and legal discrimination to seek political mileage. No serious religious scholar without a political axe to grind has spoken out in favor of these appalling laws. In fact, scholars such as Dr Javed Ghaamdi and Prof Khalid Masood oppose it vehemently. It is important to bear in mind that the imposition of these laws was a political not religious act, as is their defence. […]