Diplomacy for Peace

Amnesty International calls for repealing Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws

Amnesty International last week called for a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, noting the alarming uptick in blasphemy accusations across the country.

Amnesty International calls for repealing Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy lawsA

Christian man was arrested under the country’s blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s northwestern town of Nowshera, local media reported.

According to the Tribal News Network, the suspect, identified by police only as David, has been accused of desecrating the Quran, the holy Islamic book.

The arrest came a few days after a video showing pages of the Quran in a drain in Risalpur, a town in Nowshera district, went viral on social media platforms.

Acting on local Muslims’ grievances, police conducted an enquiry and arrested David.

David confessed and told investigators he had tore pages out of the Quran for witchcraft practise, the report said.

In deeply conservative Pakistan, blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic where unproven allegations can lead to mob lynchings, vigilant killings and violent protests.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, up to 80 people are estimated to be imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy, many of whom face life in prison or the death penalty.

Last week, Amnesty International called for the abolition of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, highlighting the troubling increase in accusations of blasphemy nationwide.

“The broad, vague and coercive nature of the blasphemy laws infringes the right to freedom of religion and belief, and freedom of opinion and expression. They were used to intimidate some of the most vulnerable people in society, including infants, mentally handicapped persons, representatives of religious minorities and poorer people, “Amnesty International’s David Griffiths said.

“Pakistani authorities need no more evidence to see how dangerous the laws of blasphemy are — they are being manipulated to make false accusations that can and have led to unlawful killings and even attacks on entire communities and burning their houses.”

Sohail Masih, a Christian, was arrested last month for his critical comments on the annual Muslim festival Eid al-Adha on Facebook.

Police filed a complaint against actor Saba Qamar and singer Bilal Saeed on 13 Aug. for filming a music video in a mosque. The clip was released online and led to widespread protests in Lahore in which religious party leaders Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) vowed “revenge” against the artists.

In October 2018, TLP held major rallies to protest Christian farm worker Asia Bibi’s blasphemy acquittal, effectively shutting the country out for three days.

Both Qamar and Saeed have released apologising posts on their respective social media accounts, but their lives remain at risk.

Police also filed a case under the blasphemy laws against journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed for a tweet she posted on Aug. 22. She has also had a separate complaint registered against her under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act with the Federal Investigative  Agency — another piece of law that has been criticised for endangering freedom of expression online.

“The fear and violence that sometimes accompany an allegation of blasphemy makes it easy to forget that the people of Pakistan should not be bound by vigilantes who flagrantly violate these rules. The Pakistani authorities continue to create a permissive environment for violence by ignoring the long-standing call to revoke the blasphemy laws. But it doesn’t have to be like this, “Griffiths said.

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