Posts Tagged ‘Blasphemy Law’
As reported in today’s The Independent, 10 January 2010
By Omar Waraich in Islamabad
Twenty thousand supporters of fundamentalist parties have rallied in the streets of Karachi in support of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as they escalated threats against liberal politicians who, like Salmaan Taseer, the slain governor of Punjab, want to see them amended.
The biggest muscle-flexing display by the religious right for years in Pakistan’s largest city come as the government repeatedly insists it will not be pursuing any change of the controversial blasphemy laws.
“We have said we will not be touching this law,” a senior government official said. “We don’t have the resolve to do it now in this charged atmosphere, so why are these mullahs still on the streets?” The demonstration comes amid an opening up of dangerous divisions in Pakistan, where an aggressive religious right has moved mainstream, pushing liberals into a fearful minority.
The protesters shouted slogans against Sherry Rehman, a liberal parliamentarian from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who had submitted a bill to amend the blasphemy law to ensure that it was no longer invoked to persecute beleaguered minorities.
“The position is that we will not allow the misuse of the blasphemy law against the minorities and vulnerable sections of society,” said spokesman Farhatullah Babar. “But we have to look at the timing. In this charged atmosphere, it is not possible to review these laws.”
On Friday, the imam of the largest mosque in Karachi declared Ms Rehman an “infidel” who was “worthy of being killed”. On the same night, trucks mounted with megaphones toured a nearby neighbourhood, inciting violence against her.
Speaking from her home in Karachi, where she has been under siege since Mr Taseer’s slaying on Tuesday, Ms Rehman said she was not about to get “unnerved” by the threats. She told The Independent: “The situation is very hairy. I am being careful. There’s no reason to be foolish, but I am not going to be silenced by intimidation.”
Ms Rehman said she was not charting an extreme course. “The bill was not asking for a repeal,” she added. “It was a middle course, calling for procedural changes in the law for which there was broad support from across the political spectrum.” But that support, she said, was not there right now “at an institutional level”.
At the demonstrations, the face of Mr Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was prominent on placards held by supporters.
The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has urged Ms Rehman to leave the country for her own safety, something she is not willing to do. “I am not going to be hounded out of the country,” she said. “They have arranged for a security cordon around my house and told me not to leave it indefinitely.”
Much has been sacrificed by the armed forces of America, the United Kingdom and others to give the people of Afghanistan a better future than the one the Taliban offered. However, six years on after the Taliban were over thrown it seems that hopes of freedom of expression, and the right to debate religion without threat or intimidation has not been won out right.
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has been sentenced by a religious court to death for downloading and circulating a tract that criticised interpreting that the Koran supported the suppression of women. He did this at his university where he is studying journalism. Despite the widespread international condemnation the Afghan Senate has rejected non Islamic views on the matter – and expressed that the secular supreme court should not intervene in the matter though constitutionally he has the right of appeal.
Aminuddin Muzafari, the first secretary of the houses of parliament, said: “People should realise that as we are representatives of an Islamic country therefore we can never tolerate insults to reverences of Islamic religion.”
I want us to support fellow secularists who risk so much to question as free thinkers the way we live our lives. It is draconian that anyone should fear for their lives from the State for expressing an opinion or even wanting a debate. Other journalists have been warned not to show solidarity for Sayed Pervez Kambaksh.
I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, much for our own self interest but also to remove a diabolical regime that threatened international security and human rights. In the case of Iraq I could not support the invasion on the false premise we were given, but on the other hand could support the over throw of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein – I just wanted public support for those reasons, not a misrepresentation of the threat he posed.
Now after six years my concern is that we have not far advanced the rule of law that protects the liberty of people from their governments. Of course the Afghan people have a right to their own constitution and the law that they wish to be governed by.
But they do not have the right to expect our troops to die to defend such a constitution, or protect such a government that would allow this punishment on it’s citizens for blasphemy. Either we help build a democratic regime through investment and the blood of our fellow citizens – if that help is not appreciated or the ruling government that holds sway does not appreciate these values we hold dear, then we have no moral obligation towards them.
They have become the enemies of reason, showing an intolerance that Al Qaeda wrought on an international stage. May the international community send a clear signal that in this case human rights matter – and the Afghan government can expect no favours should it allow this student’s execution.
How you can save Pervez
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh’s imminent execution is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai’s government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared. Sign our e-petition at www.independent.co.uk/petition
All quotes from “The Independent” article can be found here.
Richard Dawkins was a guest on the BBC show, which Mat, Hyrax and myself watched in Oxford shortly after watching Paul Nurse’s lecture (on Mat’s barge). One thing it shows is that if you are going to describe anyone as militant that adjective does not fit Dawkins at all. Maybe we could actually try and discuss things in a rational way, rather than used hurt feeling and supernatural belief as trump cards in the discussion.
Dr Harris withdraw his amendment because the government want to introduce the end of the blasphemy laws after consultation with the Church of England. That could be stalling tactics – I would not be surprised to find out that the government wants to introduce a law that covers all faith in terms of how you may discuss it – please keep vigilant on that matter and e mailing/writing your MP that what you want to see is a repeal of the blasphemy law and the protection of people and not a belief. A free society can challenge anyone over what they think to be true.
The government was whipping it’s MPs to vote against the amendment – the fear of rebellion (Brown needs to get back to Stalin from Mr Bean ASAP – Vince Cable MP’s joke struck a nerve) meant this caveat. Harris to his credit did not play politics with the amendment – which I imagine would have been lost with the whipping but the government embarrassed by how many Labour MPs would defy the government line.
It ain’t over till its over.
Well tomorrow I will give blood which in principle, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, would be a slight before god. The fact that I may help to save a life by this action though makes me feel good about the whole thing, but I feel the tinge of illicitness like when as a teenager I gave a girl a birthday present. Hard to believe that something so simple as giving a gift to someone could be seen as wrong – and when that gift is life it goes from being a kill joy idea to unnecessary death.
I hope one day people wake up to that. I fear that the Jehovah’s Witnesses may not change this dogma because it makes them stand out in a way that not celebrating birthday parties and Christmas never could. But if enough people challenge it, from both inside and outside, then maybe it can change. Lives can be saved. If the law in countries can be done to save infants who have no time for a court hearing that would be a step in the right direction to prevent what is child abuse.
Here on my blog I pledge my support for the amendment, and include the British Humanist Association e mail regarding the bill working its way through the House of Commons which follows below:
On Wednesday 9th January, an amendment to the Criminal Justice and
Immigration Bill will be made by [Dr Evan Harris MP] to abolish the
offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are abolished.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has long campaigned for the
blasphemy laws to be abolished, and we have been briefing MPs about the
present amendment, as well as representing the case for abolition to
Government – we are strongly supporting it, and you can help to support
We need to demonstrate to MPs that their constituents support this move
and we have set up a facility whereby you can email your MP directly by
going to http://tinyurl.com/2gkm7w
Please click the link today and help to abolish this antiquated law!
Reasons to abolish the blasphemy laws
There are a number of compelling reasons to abolish the blasphemy laws,
which are listed below.
· The blasphemy law is contrary to the principle of free speech
and is probably contrary to human rights laws adopted by the UK, which
protect freedom of expression. The law fundamentally protects certain,
Christian, beliefs and makes it illegal to question them or deny them.
· There is considerable evidence that the blasphemy law restricts
free speech even in the absence of recent prosecutions. It undoubtedly
influences the behaviour not only of individuals and the media, but also
of bodies exercising official functions.
· The blasphemy law protects beliefs, not people. It is right,
subject to safeguards, for society through its laws to protect
individuals and groups within it from hatred and attack. It is quite
wrong to extend the protection of the law to propositions, creeds and
· In a free society we must be allowed to criticise religious
doctrines and practices, even if that offends some people. While it may
be offensive to some Christian believers to hear their beliefs mocked or
denied that is equally true of people of other faiths, and of
unbelievers, who repeatedly hear atheism equated with a lack of values
or immorality. In an open and pluralist society there should be no
inhibition to free speech without the very strongest justification, and
robust debate should be expected and accepted in religious as in
political and other spheres.
· The blasphemy law is uncertain. As common law, with a very
limited number of cases, it is impossible to predict how the courts
might interpret the law in any putative case. This is contrary to the
principles of good law, and unacceptable in practice.
· The blasphemy law lacks credibility. Although no one has been
imprisoned for blasphemy since 1921, and private prosecutions are no
longer possible, the possibility of a prison sentence remains, and a law
that is only enforced at intervals of many years is an indefensible
· The blasphemy law allows no defence of merit or lack of
intent, which is contrary to the principles adopted in other areas, for
· The blasphemy law defends only Christianity (and principally
the doctrines of the Church of England), which is unacceptable in a
society characterised by its diversity of beliefs. Such unequal
treatment naturally arouses resentment and demands for the privilege to
be extended to other groups.
· Rather than extend the blasphemy laws to other religious
beliefs, which in practice would constitutes the severest restriction on
discussion of fundamental matters of profound significance and interest,
the most fair and most equal and equal solution would be to abolish the
The British Humanist Association
1 Gower Street
London WC1E 6HD
Tel: 020 7079 3580
ADDITIONAL: From National Secular Society:
“In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in Sudan over the name of a teddy bear we believe it is now time to repeal our own blasphemy law.“The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the “protection” of such a law. We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows small partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters like the BBC and to intimidate small theatres, the printed media and book publishers.“Far from protecting public order for which other laws are more suited it actually damages social cohesion. It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should be also protected by the criminal law (as with the attempt to charge Salman Rushdie) and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law.“As the Law Commission acknowledged as far back as 1985, when they recommended repeal, it is uncertain in scope, lack of intention is no defence and yet it is unlimited in penalty. This, together with its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law and in the end no one is ever likely to be convicted under it.“The Church of England no longer opposes its abolition and the Government has given no principled reason to defend its retention. We call upon MPs to support the amendment proposed by Dr Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and John Gummer tomorrow during the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill Report stage proceedings and for the Governmentt which rightly criticises countries like Sudan for their blasphemy laws to give it a fair wind.”