PRAY TO STOP PAKISTAN'S FALSE BLASPHEMY ALLEGATIONS
Written by Jeffrey S. Ram, Toronto, Canada, June 15, 2021
In Pakistan, the Blasphemy Laws are misused as weapons to oppress and terrorize religious minorities. False accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by religious hatred and personal vendettas. Sometimes they lead to mob lynching, murders, and protests.
Members of the Christian minority have often become the target of false accusations of blasphemy. Pakistan ranks as the fifth most dangerous country in the world for Christians in the Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List.
A Lahore-based group, Centre for Social Justice, recently reported that at least 1,855 people had been charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws since 1987.
In February 2020, United States-based organization International Christian Concern reported that twenty-four Christians were being held in Pakistani prisons based on blasphemy charges.
The U.S. State Department said in its 2020 International Religious Freedom Report that at least 35 people were sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in 2020, up from 29 in 2019. The report also noted that nearly 80 individuals remained imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan, with at least half facing the life sentence or death. The State Department continues to designate Pakistan among ten countries of particular concern for religious persecution.
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed resolutions last December calling for the repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws worldwide.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was part of a coalition of more than six dozen organizations calling for an international ban on blasphemy laws.
THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE
According to the legal principle of the presumption of innocence, every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. Thus, the legal burden of proof is on the prosecution, which must present compelling evidence to the judge. If the prosecution does not prove the charges true, then the person is acquitted of the charges. The prosecution must, in most cases, prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If reasonable doubt remains, the accused must be acquitted. But in Pakistan, every person accused of blasphemy is instantly considered guilty.
WHAT ARE PAKISTAN'S BLASPHEMY LAWS?
India's British rulers first enacted laws related to religion in 1860 and expanded them in 1927. These laws were inherited by Pakistan when it became an independent nation in 1947.
General Zia-ul Haq, a military dictator, "Islamicised" these laws by adding many clauses in instalments between 1980 and 1986. In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was added as an offence. The punishment was three years in jail.
In 1982, another clause included life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986,blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad was made punishable with death, or imprisonment for life.
In Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan's penal code, the blasphemy law permits the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam or its Prophet Muhammad. However, it carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, police data shows that at least 586 persons were booked on blasphemy charges in 2020, with the overwhelming majority from Punjab.
Data provided by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) shows that 720 Muslims, 516 Ahmedis, 238 Christians, and 31 Hindus had been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2017.
In April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding Islamabad allow freedom for religious minorities and asked the European Union to reconsider its GSP (Generalized Scheme of Preferences) plus status for Pakistan amid the increasing number of blasphemy cases.
Some countries have repealed their blasphemy laws. Sudan, repealed its blasphemy laws last year.
PLEASE PRAY THAT PAKISTAN'S GOVERNMENT REFORM THE BLASPHEMY LAWS AND STOP THEIR MISUSE
It is terrible that the Pakistani Christians live in fear and feel a sense of vulnerability because of the misuse of blasphemy laws. Let us pray that Pakistan's government stops the blasphemy conspiracies by treating all blasphemy accused as innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government should also enact a law to punish false accusers. Let us pray that Pakistan's government stops the Islamic radicals from using blasphemy laws to target religious minorities — Christians, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and Hindus. May God grant relief and protection to Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities from religion-based oppression and terrorism.
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