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Blasphemy and exploitation of religious extremism

By Dr. Zeeshan Khan

It’s very regretful to pass unjust comments regarding Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan’s judgement about Asia Bibi case without getting into the details of the matter. I being a true Muslim cannot bear the disrespect of Our Holy Prophet/an act of blasphemy but is it right to give everyone the right to kill anyone just on the basis of doubt of blasphemy?

Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad and has been in solitary confinement for the past eight years. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who gave the verdict, said Ms Bibi could walk free from jail immediately if she was not wanted in any other case.

Asia Bibi is a 47-year-old farm laborer and mother of five from the Punjab Province. She was involved in a row with other Muslim farm workers after they refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched because she was not Muslim. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.” Under the Pakistani penal code, the offence of blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment. In 1860 under British Raj law, it became a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

During the 1980s as Islamic influence in Pakistan grew, the law was expanded to include making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages an offence. Since 1987, a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP). Other Pakistani politicians have made efforts to amend the blasphemy laws.

In 2010, Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) introduced a private bill with the intention of changing procedures of religious offences so that cases would be heard directly by the higher courts. The bill was withdrawn in 2011 following pressure from religious forces and some political opposition groups. While public support for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws is strong, elsewhere the laws have attracted intense criticism.

Dr. Zeeshan Khan is a medical doctor by profession. He can be followed on twitter: @DrZeeshanKhanA1

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