Friday, September 22, 2017

New York: Pakistani PM Abbasi washes hands off deadly blasphemy law


The abusive nature of Pakistan's blasphemy laws is not new. However, the increasing use of blasphemy provisions to jail and prosecute people for comments made on social media is a dangerous escalation.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | Int'l Desk
Source/Credit: Outlook India
By ANI | September 21, 2017

Islamabad [Pakistan], September 21 : Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has washed his hands off the blasphemy law, saying it is on the parliament to change or amend it.

When asked by a Human Rights Watch official, at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, if he would speak out against it, he said, "It's only up to the parliament to amend or change the laws."

"Asked to take moral stand against "blasphemy" executions, Pakistan PM opts for cowardice, says it's up to parliament," HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeted.

Recently, a court in Pakistan's Punjab province had sentenced death to Nadeem James, a 35-year-old Christian, for sending a poem to a friend that was deemed insulting to Islam.

However, James denied ever having sent the message.

James isn't the only person in Pakistan condemned to death over a post on social media.

In June, Taimoor Raza, 30, was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur district for allegedly making blasphemous comments during a Facebook chat with someone, who eventually turned out be a counter-terrorism agent on the prowl, the Human Rights Watch quoted Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer employed by HRW in Pakistan, as saying.

In April 2014, a Christian couple was sentenced to death for sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric. The couple claimed that they were illiterate and could not have sent a blasphemous text in English. Junaid Hafeez, a university professor, has been imprisoned for nearly four years, facing a possible death sentence, for accusations of sharing blasphemous material online. Hafeez's lawyer was murdered in May 2014.

The abusive nature of Pakistan's blasphemy laws is not new. However, the increasing use of blasphemy provisions to jail and prosecute people for comments made on social media is a dangerous escalation. Many officials are using religious rhetoric and whipping up tensions over the issue of blasphemy.

In March, the then-interior minister described blasphemers as "enemies of humanity" and expressed the intention of taking the matter of blasphemers to a "logical conclusion."

Although no one has yet been executed for the crime, Pakistan's penal code makes the death penalty mandatory in blasphemy convictions. At least 19 people remain on death row.

Even accusations of blasphemy can be deadly as at least 60 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered since 1990.

Religious minorities are significantly over-represented among those facing blasphemy charges, and are often victimised due to personal disputes. A death sentence for alleged blasphemy online in a country, with low literacy rates and lack of familiarity with modern technology, is an invitation for a witch-hunt. Pakistan needs to amend and ultimately repeal its blasphemy laws; not extend their scope to digital speech.


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