Blasphemy explained – and the case of Asia Bibi

In Nation States where Sharia law exists, every day, minority groups are being accused of blasphemy and apostasy – and being put to death by hanging, being stoned to death or beaten to death. 

So, what is blasphemy and apostasy? 

In Islam is impious utterance or action concerning Allah, the Qu’ran, Muhammad or anything considered sacred in Islam. Blasphemy is basically any word or action that offends a Muslim. 

The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for blasphemy. However, The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, including: death. 

Schools of jurisprudence of Islam have different punishment for blasphemy, depending on whether blasphemer is Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman. The punishment can be fines, imprisonment, flogging, amputation, hanging, or beheading.

As a case study, let’s look at Blasphemy in Pakistan: 

Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society, like Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy. 

Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution. 

Section 295-C of the Penal Code in Pakistan ensures that those accused of blasphemy receive the death sentence. Often without a fair trial, without access to representation for the accused, and even without any evidence gathered against the accused. 

Data provided by National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) shows a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987.

According to sources, 51 people accused of blasphemy were murdered before their respective trials were over.

Blasphemy law are being exploited – of then used to persecute minority groups, and to intimidate, bully or for vengeance. 

Christians are the main targets by the fundamentalist and religious political parties. The law is being used for forced conversion, forcibly taking over the lands and business of Christians, hindering the preaching of Christian faith and for settling personal scores, rivalries and vengeance. 

Many innocent persons have been falsely accused under blasphemy laws and the number is still on the rise. Victims are severely manhandled and even murdered by mobs and individuals; their families go in hiding. They have to leave their home or even their homeland and their dear ones accept exile to save their lives.

BLASPHEMY IN PAKISTAN – THE CASE OF AISA BIBI

Asia Bibi was working as a berry picker in 2009, when the 46-year-old got into a dispute with a group of Muslim women who objected to her drinking their water because, as a Christian, she was considered ‘unclean’.

Asia’s crime was drinking a cup of cool water on a hot day. It is unclean for an ‘infidel’ to touch anything that belongs to a Muslim, or anything a Muslim consumes.

For drinking a cup of water, Asia has been in detention in Pakistan since 2009 – accused of blasphemy, and received a death sentence in November, 2010. 

As a result of the initial allegations, the family were savagely beaten by angry villagers at their house and forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats.

Unfortunately, it is common in places like Pakistan for mobs to gather and beat an accused person to death in a crowd. All it takes is for someone to scream ‘blasphemy!’ – for the crowds to gather to beat the person to death – without the right of the accused to a fair trial, without legal representation, or without any legal due process or a presumption of innocence – or even without evidence being produced. 

It has been reported that Asia’s  daughter Esham who is now 14,  is still traumatised from seeing her mother tortured the day she was accused. 

Asia’s second daughter, who was 9 when the initial incident occurred, came home from school to find her mother being abused, witnessing the attackers shout obscenities and tear off her clothes.

Ms Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih lives with his daughters in a Christian district of Lahore. 

The family have launched a second court appeal to overturn their mothers’ death sentence. Human rights groups say Pakistan’s blasphemy law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

There are various problems with such laws, including: 

The law in Pakistan does not explicitly define blasphemy and evidence of blasphemy cannot not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

There are also no penalties for false accusations. If the accused are not beaten on the spot, they are arrested, police and the courts often allow trials to drag on for years, as in the case of Ms Bibi.

For the accused, there is no right to a fair trial, no legal representation, or any legal due process or a presumption of innocence. Evidence is often not even produced to prove the accusation.

This case becomes more shocking with the reality that after two prominent politicians – who tried to help Ms Bibi with her blasphemy case – were assassinated, one by his own bodyguard. 

It has been reported that a local Muslim leader offered a $6,000 reward to anyone who murders Asia Bibi. The family of Asia Bibi has also recieved death threats. 

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