Good and Bad News for Victims of Islamic Blasphemy Laws

Article excerpt

After more than three years in prison, Dr. Younus Sheikh, a college professor in Pakistan, has regained his freedom. His release followed a retrial of his case, held in the jail itself. Upon his acquittal, Dr. Sheikh went into hiding and has since left Pakistan for his own safety.

Dr. Sheikh was arrested in October 2000, accused of making comments in his classroom that were blasphemous to Islam. At his August 2001 trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Since then, he has been held in solitary confinement at the infamous Rawalpindi Central Jail. Pressure from human rights activists, including the secular humanist community, brought international publicity to the case. A retrial was ordered after an appeals court delivered a conflicting verdict.

Meanwhile, Taslima Nasrin, an intellectual and writer from Bangladesh has once again run afoul of Islamic clerics. Nasrin, a FREE INQUIRY senior editor, has been living in exile and under a fatwa for her books. Earlier this year, she visited the Indian state of West Bengal and applied for permission to settle in Calcutta. That does not appear to readily forthcoming, as the government has banned her fourth and newest book, the autobiographical Dwikhondito. At issue are ten pages that include comments about Islam that the government says it fears will spark enmity between religious communities.

Also in reaction to the book, a Muslim cleric has offered 20,000 rupees to anyone who can blacken Nasrin's face or lay a garland of shoes around her feet. …