The arrest of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has once again raised the risk of violence committed in the name of religion.
The girl accused of burning pages of the Quran - according to some reports she burnt pages of the Noorani Qaida which is the beginner's guide for reciting the Quran with a correct accent and pronunciation - is being held under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws.
"I think it's a bad law to start off with – it's a man-made law and it has nothing to do with religion. If you look at our history, the history of Islam and that of our Holy Prophet - he was exceptionally tolerant to those who were abusive towards him. He never took any action against anyone who did anything horrible to him, like throw garbage on him. So for him to put up with all that and we can't, to me, makes absolutely no sense."
- Ayesha Tammy Haq, a barrister-at-law and civil rights activist
There are conflicting reports about the details of her arrest as well as her age and mental state. Some reports say she is just 11 and suffers from Down syndrome.
Christians have reacted by holding protests in Karachi, demanding the release of the girl and to repeal the anti-blasphemy laws.
Some Christians have fled their homes in fear. In the past, crowds have killed many of those accused of blasphemy, and even politicians who advocated for change to the legislation have been targeted.
People are branded blasphemers in Pakistan on a regular basis and some cases have attracted international attention:
- In May 2010, armed men attacked two mosques and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadi sect.
- In November 2010, a Christian labourer, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a co-worker accused her of insulting Islam. The sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail.
- In 2011, Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were killed after they publicly called for the blasphemy law to be amended.
- And in July 2012, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station in the city of Bahawalpur. They beat him and killed him.
"I think the whole discussion needs to be put in a right perspective; this is not an issue of minorities, let me emphasis it again. The best way for such a kind of situation is to fight the case in a court of law. Those people who are taking [part in] demonstrations and who are threatening the alleged persons, they are doing wrong."
- Khalid Rahman, the director general at the Institute for Policy Studies
Pakistan's blasphemy laws apply to all faiths, but a couple of chapters have been added over the years, referring specifically to Muslims.
Section 295 states that:
“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine.”
So, should Pakistan's blasphemy laws be repealed? And are Pakistan's blasphemy laws being misused to persecute the country's minorities?
Inside Story, with presenter Folly Bah Thibault, discusses with guests: Ayesha Tammy Haq, a barrister-at-law and civil rights activist; Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute for Policy Studies, specialising in domestic and regional politics; and Aasim Sajjad, a professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University, and a member of the central committee of the Worker's Party.
BLASPHEMY IN PAKISTAN:
- Pakistani police are holding a Christian girl accused of burning the Quran
- Pakistan's President Zardari ordered report on details of girl's arrest
- Blasphemy laws makes it a crime to damage the Quran
- Pakistan's blasphemy laws are based on British colonial laws from 1860
- Laws were amended in 1980s to add life imprisonment and death penalty
- Jinnah Institute: There were nine blasphemy cases in Pakistan between 1929 and 1982
- Blasphemy cases over last 15 years have climbed into the thousands
- Muslims constitute a majority of those booked under blasphemy law
- A majority of Pakistanis believe blasphemers should be punished