Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Once More, with Feeling

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Once More, with Feeling

Article excerpt

Most people have heard of Pakistan's blasphemy law. Carrying the death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone who criticises the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran, it gained renewed international scrutiny in August after Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl apparently suffering from Down's syndrome, was arrested in Islamabad. She was subsequently freed and a Muslim cleric now stands accused of fabricating evidence against her.

While it was unusual that she was freed--alleged blasphemers are rarely let off and even if they are released they are at risk of vigilante justice--the jumped-up charges against her were less so. Given the light burden of proof, the law is frequently used as a weapon against Pakistan's religious minorities.

But could that be changing? Here in Karachi, protests against the anti-Islam film that has caused rallies across the Muslim world became violent. One incident, on 21 September, was an attack on a Hindu temple on the outskirts of the city. Protesters attacked the Sri Krishna Ram temple, breaking statues, tearing up the Bhagavadgita (the holy book) and assaulting the temple's caretaker.

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Community leaders took the unusual step of going to the police, who have announced that a case against nine attackers has been registered under Section 295-A of the blasphemy laws. This lesser-known section, which covers the "outraging of religious feelings", can apply to any religion and carries a fine or imprisonment of up to ten years. …

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