Pakistani church leader says abolition of “blasphemy” laws “impossible”

17 May 2021

A Pakistani church leader has argued that it is “impossible” to abolish the country’s controversial “blasphemy” laws.

Khalid Rashid Asi, a church minister in Faisalabad, argued that Christians who campaign for the repeal of “blasphemy” laws place the Christian community at risk of reprisals.

Christians in Pakistan are often targeted with false accusations of "blasphemy"

“If I speak openly, my family and people will be burned,” said Asi. “The courts are silent; the political leaders are helpless … The situation has become very difficult. Inflaming such issues makes them go out of control.”

“It is impossible to abolish blasphemy laws,” he added. “Our struggle to end it will fail.

“It is wrong to raise such slogans. It creates unrest. We are heralds of hope but we should not give false hope to others … We can only learn to manage the blasphemy laws.”

Asi, however, accepted that Christian leaders must discuss misuse of the “blasphemy” laws with “radical groups and the government. Police officers and magistrates must seek a way to seek truth with reconciliation.”

Punishment for false accusation

Asi’s intervention comes after the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the abolition of the “blasphemy” laws, citing “an alarming increase in accusations of ‘blasphemy’”.

Accusations frequently trigger mob violence and even killings. Christians acquitted of allegations live in fear of attack by zealous Muslim extremists and often can no longer return to live in their homes.

One suggestion for the modification of the “blasphemy” laws is the adoption of the sharia (Islamic law) principle of qazaf. Used in relation to accusations of adultery (zina), the qazaf principle is that false accusations should be punished almost as severely as the crime itself.

Adoption of this principle in relation to “blasphemy” would mean that false accusations could result in fines or imprisonment.

Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws (Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code) are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia

“Blasphemy” laws have existed in the region since 1927 and were incorporated into Pakistan’s Penal Code at the country’s founding in 1947. The laws were strengthened under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (in office 1978-88), including the addition of mandatory life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran (1982) and the death sentence for defiling the name of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet (1986). A subsequent decision by Pakistan's constitutional court making the death sentence for “blasphemy” against Muhammad mandatory came into effect in 1991.

Seven Christians were on death row as at October 2020 and about another 20 in prison on “blasphemy” charges. Between 1990 and 2019, 15 Christians were murdered because of “blasphemy” allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with the law. Entire Christian communities have been violently targeted by Muslims following allegations.

Related Countries

Pakistan