Pakistan's Blasphemy Knife; Religious Repression Stifles Freedom of South Asian Minorities

Article excerpt


After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, a white reporter asked Mal- colm X to respond to a statement in reference to the civil rights move- ment: You feel, however, that we are making progress in this coun- try. Malcolm X answered, No. You stick a knife into my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that's not progress.

Such is the condition of Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani Christian mother of five accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Ms. Bibi allegedly committed blasphemy while fetching water in her village near Lahore in 2009. After an 18-month imprisonment, a district court handed down a death sentence for Ms. Bibbi two weeks ago under Section 295B of the Pakistani Penal Code.

This is the same law that has subjected Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims to relentless and systematic persecution since 1984. Hundreds of Pakistani citizens belonging to various minority sects have been killed over the past decade under the guise of blasphemy law enforcement. As Shariah courts continue to hand down decrees to kill, stone and humiliate and the blasphemy laws continue to be used to impose death sentences as a punishment for freedom of expression, the situation with America's strongest ally remains dicey.

Just during the past six months, Pakistan has twisted this knife among minorities nationwide. A mob burned down homes on the outskirts of Karachi when a Hindu boy drank water from a mosque cooler in July. During the same month, a Christian priest and his brother accused of blasphemy were mortally shot outside a Faisalabad court as they were returning from a hearing. In November, an Ahmadi family was pressured into exhuming the body of a relative buried in the Muslim graveyard after clerics threatened violence. And now a death sentence has been awarded to a Christian, Ms. Bibi, as a punishment for blasphemy.

As Amnesty International, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Jinnah Institute are roused with condemnations against such human right abuses, the Pakistani Parliament and judiciary are silent. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer's is a lone voice, first condemning these laws in 2009 and now leading the charge to have Ms. Bibi's clemency appeal approved by the president. Even Pope Benedict XVI called upon Pakistani authorities Wednesday to release Ms. …