Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

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What if Bulleh Shah were alive today?

Another tragic day. A mob attacks a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and then burn their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked. Religion, class, bigotry and exploitation all mixed up.
Reminds me of another piece that I wrote in 2012 on the burning of a blasphemy accused and the inability of law/state/police to salvage the situation.

The chilling news of a man burnt alive in Bahawalpur on alleged charges of blasphemy has escaped the national media as well as our collective conscience. Other than a token condemnation by President Asif Ali Zardari, no major political leader has bothered to talk about this ghastly incident.

After the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, we had given up the hope of even holding a debate on man-made colonial laws on blasphemy. The voices that were asking for a review of the legislation had to retreat as the majority Sunni-Barelvi interpretation captured public discourse. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri was defended by the same lawyer who viewed ‘rule of law’ as an articulation of a personalised, anti-democracy and Sharia-compliant version of justice. The fact that a former chief justice of Lahore is Qadri’s lawyer reflects the inherent biases and indoctrination that have spread in our society. If a billionaire, liberal politician could be murdered on the streets of Islamabad, what hope does a supposedly deranged man in the deep south of Punjab have?

The rise of vigilantism is also indicative of state failure. Not long ago, we witnessed the inhuman lynching of two young men in the Sialkot district where the state machinery stood by and extended tacit support to ugly scenes of dead bodies being paraded around. A few months later, I was invited to a television talk show where, to my surprise, I was surrounded by a lawyer and a so-called aalim (religious scholar). During the show, the cheerful aalim continued to find obscure and irrelevant references to justify mob-lynching as a kosher form of justice. […]

Pakistan: At the edge of the abyss?

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used to fuel violence and death.



The recent murder of a brave human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman reminds us of the society we have shaped. It is now an unregulated space where even defending the rights of an accused is a crime. Rehman had made all the threats, including those in the courtroom, public. The local state authorities did next to nothing to protect him or rein in the individuals and groups preaching violence. It seems when it comes to religiously motivated violence the might of the state disappears. Victims of blasphemy law are no longer fit for due process. They need to be punished directly. A few days after the murder of Rehman, another accused of blasphemy was shot dead by a teenager in a police station near Lahore.

Since the brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, debates on the colonial blasphemy law have disappeared from the public domain. Those who advocated against its misuse were also silenced through litigation in courts by the right-wing lobbies that no longer constitute the lunatic fringe. In fact, the idea of blasphemy as a threat to Pakistan’s carefully constructed “Islamic” identity mixes passion, politics and power. A state that quietly smiles at the success of its project is now complicit in mob justice and even brutal killings such as the one that took Rashid Rehman’s life. […]