Taking the law into ones own hands yet again

Blasphemy in Pakistan

Being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan is a crime that carries punishments ranging from fines to life imprisonment and, in the case of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a mandatory death sentence. However, many cases do not even get to court. According to an Al Jazeera tally, at least 75 people have been extra-judicially killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990.

They include people accused of blasphemy, their family members, their lawyers, a judge. As well as a serving federal minister and a provincial governor who supported the right of one of the accused to a fair trial.

Minorities Targetted

The communities most at threat from abuses of the blasphemy law are religious minorities. “The vulnerability is still there and it is going to remain as long as the law is there and people accept its legitimacy,” said a spokesman for the sect, Usman Ahmad. Blasphemy is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan. Merely suggesting reform of the law can trigger violence.

The latest Casualty

Khalid Khan walked into a courtroom in Peshawar on Wednesday. Proceeding to shoot and kill, Tahir Shamim Ahmad, who was on trial for blasphemy, a police officer said.

It is not immediately clear how the assailant got into the court amid tight security. Or how he came in possession of the gun that ultimately killed Tahir Shamim Ahmad. Claiming to be Islam’s prophet and was arrested two years ago on blasphemy charges, according to Azmat Khan, the police officer. Ahmad died before he reached the hospital.

Urgent reform needed

Amending the blasphemy laws has been on the agenda of many popular secular parties. None has made much progress. Principally because of the sensitivities over the issue. Though also because no major party wants to antagonize the religious parties.

Pakistan\’s Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to defend the country\’s strict blasphemy laws in the run-up to his general election win. However, the status quo is still in place. Qibla Ayaz, who heads Pakistan\’s top advisory body on religious affairs, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Told BBC in February that no government was ready to make changes to the blasphemy law due to fears of a backlash.

He said he had advised Pakistan\’s Ministry of Law and Justice to suggest penalties for misuse of this law.


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