Pakistan Blasphemy Laws: A Fact Sheet
By Mansoor Raza
The ghost of the draconian Blasphemy Laws, as enacted by the Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, haunts the present democratic set up as much as it does the Christian, Ahmadis and other minorities of Pakistan. Despite the consensus that there should be a total repeal of the Laws, the nuisance value of ultra-rightists prevents the Party of the poor from any daring action that would accrue anger of the mullahs. The enactment and acceptance of Blasphemy Laws is a result of the evolution of Pakistani state and before going into that it would be interesting to look at some basic facts about the Laws:
1. The Blasphemy Laws in the Pakistan Penal Code are rooted in the Indian Penal Code of 1860 and they were introduced through Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code during the dictatorial regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq. The newly-introduced sections aimed to protect holy personages of only one religion, i.e. Islam, which is the state religion. Section 295-C which was added by an act of the parliament in 1986, and made it a criminal offence to use derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Under Section 295-C, the offence was punishable with life imprisonment or death.
2. Between 1927 (year in which British colonial rulers introduced section 295-A) and 1986 there had been less than ten reported cases of blasphemy. However, 1986 onwards as many as 4,000 cases have been reported. Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with offences under the Blasphemy Laws. Fifty percent of the people charged were non-Muslims. More than 20 people have been murdered for alleged blasphemy. Two third of all the cases are in the Punjab Province of Pakistan
3. The province of the Punjab is home to 81 percent of Pakistnan’s Christians. The seven districts that have contributed most to the blasphemy cases are Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Toba Tek Singh. The total population of these districts is 25 million, of which five percent are Christian; 50 percent of total Christian population of Pakistan of 2.0 million lives in these seven districts; majority of Christians in the Punjab live in rural areas.
4. According to 1998 Census, the population of religious minorities, in Pakistan, is around six million or 3.7 percent of the total population. The Hindus and Christians constitute 83 percent of the religious minorities in Pakistan, with Hindus outnumbering Christians by a small margin and 93 percent of Hindus live in Sindh.
5. An analysis of 361 cases of blasphemy offences registered by the police between 1986 and 2007 shows that as many as 49 percent cases were registered against non-Muslims. The cases against non-Muslims should be contrasted with the population of religious minorities which is not more than four percent of Pakistan’s population. Moreover, 26 percent cases against Ahmadis and 21 percent cases against Christians are not in line with their ratio in total population, which is 0.22 and 1.58 percent of the total population respectively. The number of persons nominated in 361 cases was 761. Out of 361 total cases, more than two-thirds cases were found to be from the Punjab, 15 percent from Sindh and 5 percent from the NWFP.
6. Out of 35 districts in the Punjab, police in seven districts – all in central Punjab – had registered 10 or more cases during 1986 and 2007.
7. Forty one percent of all cases in terms of religion were registered. Nearly 65 percent of cases registered were against Christians, and Muslims were nominated in 43 percent cases.
8. A total of 104 cases reached the higher courts between 1960 and 2007, out of which 91 cases were heard by the High Courts in Pakistan and the AJK and the rest by the apex courts (Supreme Court and Shariat Court). In as many as 41 cases, section 295-C was invoked.
9. A study of data and cases study, suggest that there are three types of blasphemy cases:
i) cases which are mere accusations and are lodged to settle scores;
ii) cases which are based on expressing one’s faith, and
iii) cases in which the accused are known to be suffering from some kind of mental illness.
10. It is important to note that the laws introduced by General Zia-ul Haq, which were discriminatory against women and non-Muslims, were largely opposed by women rights organizations. It is unfortunate that some Christian political leadership continued to adjust their positions and sometimes came to defend these laws publicly.
Factors that paved way for the acceptance of the Blasphemy Laws and their endorsement (by a particular segment of the society) are rooted in the evolution of the state of Pakistan and the constitutional development, in a certain manner. Due to the demographic change that accompanied the partition of India in 1947, the areas that now comprise Pakistan changed from a multi-religious society to a mono-religious society.
The social changes that are underway due to urbanization are taking on the traditional class structure that defined neatly the occupational distribution of classes and castes throughout centuries. The resulting fissures are creating tension between the groups and the warring sections are in search of ideologies to justify their struggle; a mere expression of tussle of aspirations.
Traditionally, minorities found refuge in liberal politics and supported the left leaning parties, but lately the liberal parties are losing fast the electoral battle in the decisive constituencies of the province of the Punjab. It is noted with great caution that the demography of Christians is heavily skewed in the Punjab, where the PPP is showing steady signs of involuntary withdrawal. The replacing of the PML (N) by the PPP will have an adverse impact on the future of minorities in the province.
It is safely concluded that religious aspirations of state are used by adventurists to fight an otherwise war of economic aspirations. The Pakistan People’s Party failed to comprehend the evolving new realities and thus lost fast in the electoral battle grounds of the Punjab.
In light of the above-mentioned balance sheet the total repeal of the Blasphemy Laws is only possible through mass awareness, organized campaigns and galvanizing progressive religious leaders for the greater cause of protection of humanity. The state needs to remain neutral and secular in its policies.
Mansoor Raza is a researcher who presented this paper at the Reference for Salmaan Taseer organised by CFD in Karachi on Jan 17, 2011.