The year was 2009 when Christian Asia Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi got into an argument with a group of Muslim women after she drank water from their glass. Her neighbor who she had been in a continuing feud regarding a property was the one to ‘inform’ her that as Christians are unclean, they are forbidden to drink from the glass of a Muslim.
This way of thinking is uncomfortably common in Pakistan. Many Muslims do not allow Christians to touch their plates, let alone drink from their glass. (No this is not about germs being passed by sharing a drink.)
In 2010, Asia Bibi was subsequently accused of blasphemy with an additional charge that she had insulted the Prophet, securing the death penalty by hanging.
Petitions were signed all around the word protesting her arrest. Even Pope Benedict XVI asked for the charges against her to be dismissed. Shahbaz Bhatti and the then Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer spoke up for her and both were killed as a result.
To this day, she remains behind bars and lives in isolation. Her family has gone into hiding while her accusers roam free.
Rimsha Masih was a 14 year old girl with Down Syndrome who was accused by a local imam, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, that she had desecrated pages of the Quran. Despite being a minor, she was arrested and booked under blasphemy.
Two weeks later, it was found that Hafiz Chisti himself had planted those burnt pages in order to ‘cleanse’ the area of Christians.
Rimsha was freed, but she and her family faced constant threats and had to eventually flee the country.
The Imam roams free.
Only 15 blasphemy cases had been prosecuted in Pakistan before 1986. However, when the blasphemy law was expanded to include offences like insulting the Prophet in the Constitution under Zia-ul-Haq as being punishable by death, the numbers surged drastically. Over 1200 people have been charged with blasphemy since 1986 (to 2010), These are the ones that went to court. There were 65 cases where the accused were murdered even before their ‘crime’ had been proven. These are again, the ones that we know about.
Chand Barkat was a 28 year old stall holder who was falsely accused of blasphemy by another vendor, who simply wanted him gone from that area so he could have more business.
Even though six Muslims stepped up and said that he had not committed blasphemy, Barkat was still denied bail for 15 months. Eventually he was acquitted but still had to go into hiding because the accuser, his friends and family wanted to kill him.
Gul Masih had a quarrel with his neighbor Sajjad Hussain over the repair of a street water tap. As a result, he accused him of blasphemy and Gul and his brother were arrested. Even though out of the three witnesses, two said he had done no such thing; the judge, Talib Hussain Baloch, still sentenced him to death because:
“Sajjad Husain, is a young man of 21, a student of B.A. and a true Muslim with a beard on his face and a good outlook, I find no reason to disbelieve him.”
Gul was tortured in jail but was eventually acquitted. But due to constant threats, had to also seek asylum in Germany.
Sajjad Hussain, the liar, of course was never held accountable or punished.
Samuel Masih was arrested for defiling a mosque by allegedly spitting on its wall. Whether he did it or not, it is not known, but he was nevertheless murdered by Faryad Ali, a policeman who had been assigned to guard him when he was being taken to a hospital for tuberculosis treatment. He killed him with a hammer and reasoned that as a Muslim, it had been his duty to kill him.
In 2007, Martha Bibi from Kasur, was accused of blasphemy as well. It was found out later that it had been a made up story simply because her contractors did not want to pay her for the materials they had bought from her.
She was lucky enough to be released, but her accusers never paid their dues and remain free.
In March 2010, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet. Even though it was found out that the whole case had been fabricated and he had been accused to settle a property dispute, more than 3,000 Muslims rampaged through Joseph Colony torching 100 homes that belonged to Christians.
There are far too many such cases and I can’t list them all and I am not going to argue whether this blasphemy law should exist or not as everyone has already made up their minds about it and won’t budge no matter what. There are those who justify it with stories that blasphemy is punishable and then there are also the peaceful folks.
They are the ones who talk about the lady who would throw garbage on the Prophet, and how he never reacted. The one day when she was not there to throw garbage, he got worried and asked about her. When he found out she was ill, he went to see her to ask how she was and if he could help in any way. Needless to say, due to his tolerance and kindness, she learnt the error of her ways and never threw garbage on him.
In this day and age, if anyone even suggested that one should do such a thing, he would be skinned alive before one could even utter ‘blasphemy.’
Again, I will not argue about the law, as people simply project their inner tendencies with whatever way they choose to lean towards, but what is blatantly apparent is that the blasphemy law is one of the most abused laws in Pakistan. Settling personal scores is pretty much what is it is used for.
I do have a question though. Why are those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy never punished (in practice)? Why can a person lie and have another killed, or have his home torched and still be able to lead a normal life out free? Should he not be punished too? A person died because of him! A life was taken unfairly. Why is he free?
And what about those Muslims who make fun of and ridicule other religions? Why aren’t they booked under blasphemy in the same way? Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if one law is applicable to one group, shouldn’t it be to others too? Why can a Muslim make jokes about Hindu Gods and it would be considered funny and not blasphemous/offensive?
For now, let’s go with the people who side with the blasphemy laws being an integral part of our society. If they are loud about blasphemers, why aren’t they loud about the ones who falsely accused others of it? The current ongoing Mandi Bahauddin case; why aren’t they there demanding that the false accusers be arrested?
Why do they only rise when they have to accuse another, even if falsely?
Doesn’t this make them hypocritical? To have one law for oneself but another for others?