David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch; Asia
BAHAWALPUR CITY, Pakistan – Controlled by Muslim law, Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law has awarded a death sentence to Muhammad Rafiq in the Punjab province district court, presided by Judge Malik Riaz Ahmed. Liberal politicians and human rights activists in Pakistan said the blasphemy law, which carries a maximum sentence of death, is often misused to settle personal scores and encourages Islamist extremism to persecute religious minorities.
Rafiq was convicted for committing blasphemy against the companions of Prophet Mohammed.
Police official Chaudhry Safdar said Rafiq was caught by local residents with a wooden slab around his neck that was inscribed with blasphemous remarks about the ”Sahaba Ikrams”.
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated last month by a police guard who said he was angered by the politician’s opposition to the blasphemy law, leading to what correspondents say is a climate of fear with few people daring to even mention the legislation.
The religious right praised the bodyguards actions.
The blasphemy law has been at the center of a heated debate since a court in Punjab sentenced Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, to death last year for allegedly committing blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed.
Last month, an imam and his son were sentenced to life imprisonment by another court in Punjab after being convicted on blasphemy charges.
Caving in to pressure from religious hardliners not to change the law, the government has said it has no plans to amend the statute.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Pakistani government to release a teenager who has been charged under the country’s controversial blasphemy law.
Muhammad Samiullah, 17, is under arrest in the southern city of Karach, he is accused of blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad
“Pakistan has set the standard for intolerance when it comes to misusing blasphemy laws, but sending a schoolboy to jail for something he scribbled on an exam paper is truly appalling,” said Bede Sheppard, senior children’s rights researcher, at Human Rights Watch.
The alleged incident, reported by an invigilator, took place during high school final examinations, called intermediate exams, in Karachi’s North Nazimabad neighborhood.
Although the privately educated, 17-year-old Muslim apologized to the exam board, the apology was not accepted and the matter was reported to police.
Police refused to divulge the offending comment made in the exam out of fear that they would fall foul of the blasphemy law for repeating it.
The boy has been charged under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, which makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. HRW said Pakistan has applied the blasphemy law to children before as well.
Hundreds of people have been charged under the law since it was added to the penal code in 1986 by the then military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
For more information, please see:
BBC –Pakistan urged to free schoolboy arrested for blasphemy – 2 February 2011
CNN –Pakistani teen jailed for blasphemy in school exam – 1 February 20122
OneIndia News – Man sentenced to death under blasphemy law in Pakistan – 3 February 2011