Why is blasphemy such a sensitive issue in Pakistan? – Times of India

ISLAMABAD: In Pakistan, a country with a Muslim majority – Blasphemy is a burning issue. Even mere claims of disrespect towards Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can incite violent and deadly responses from vigilante groups.
Why is blasphemy such a sensitive issue and how common is violence related to blasphemy in Pakistan?
What is the extent of this violence?
According to local media and researchers, since 1990 at least 85 people have been murdered due to accusations of blasphemy.
They have included individuals who faced allegations of blasphemy, their children, lawyers and even the judges presiding over their cases.
The victims include people from religious minorities, popular politicians, students, clerics and the mentally ill.
They were killed through methods such as being set on fire, being lynched by mobs, fatally shot in courtrooms, and brutally murdered on roadsides, among various other types of assaults.
So how deep is this issue?
Ever since 2011, when Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard for advocating the reform of blasphemy laws, since then there has been little to no deliberations over this issue.
Currently, blasphemy allegations are regularly weaponized as a means to target opposition during conflicts, it is a tactic that is even used by top political leaders.
Many praised Tasser’s murderers, and his murder was followed by the establishment and then the rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a widely popular far right party advocating for the beheading of those accused of blasphemy.
This rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has led to a rise in the number of blasphemy cases being lodged based on ideological reasons.
Are minorities at a greater risk of these attacks? Although a majority of those facing allegations of blasphemy are Muslims, according to right groups members of religious minorities face a far severe threat.
Christians who constitute around 1.3% of Pakistan’s 250 million population, have been especially vulnerable. In recent years, neighborhoods in cities of Lahore, Gojra, Jaranwala and the capital city of Islamabad have been victims of arson or assaults following accusations of blasphemy.
When incidents of anti-violence are reported, local police are seen standing as bystanders, and letting the mobs carry out their attacks. This is often prompted by fears of being labeled ‘blasphemers’ themselves for trying to stop these attacks.
What do the laws say
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, some of which were inherited from its previous British colonial rulers, were used infrequently until the 1970s and ’80s. During that period, these laws were reinforced and broadened to encompass various provisions explicitly addressing the act of insulting Islam.
According to the US commission on International Religious Freedom, as of 2023, there are at least 53 people detained across Pakistan under accusations of blasphemy.
Judges presiding over cases dealing with blasphemy have stated being coerced to deliver convictions, even in the absence of substantial evidence, due to fears of being assaulted.
As per the current laws, the offense of insulting Prophet Mohammed is punishable by a mandatory death sentence, while the act of “defiling” the Quran is met with a life imprisonment term. It is important to note that these laws were further reinforced this year.

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