Pakistan's minorities are under attack and the country's blasphemy laws must share the blame

The accusation alone of blasphemy has led to violence that has claimed countless lives. And the cases themselves are usually about something else

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The Independent Online

Christian community leaders in Lahore say the violence unleashed on the city’s Joseph colony erupted following a drinking session involving two friends, one Muslim and the other Christian.

They argued and the Muslim man allegedly threatened his friend that he “would teach him a lesson”. That “lesson” was to make an accusation under section 295-C of the Pakistan penal code, the blasphemy laws which carry with them a potential death penalty. While there are no recent instances of such a sentence being carried out, the accusation alone of blasphemy has led to violence that has over the years claimed the lives of countless people. And cases are usually about something else, land or money or personal animosity, but where 295-C has been used a means of assault.

The most high-profile individual to lose their life as a result of the laws, introduced under British rule but strengthened during the administration of military dictator Gen Zia ul-Haq, was Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab. Mr Taseer had supported reforming the laws, and was shot dead in January 2011 by a member of his protection detail who was outraged by the governor’s behaviour. Two months later, the country’s minorities’ minister, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.

Pakistan has become an increasingly deadly place for minorities, be they Christians or Hindus, or else Shia or Ahmadi Muslims. “This attack shows the heightened state of vulnerability of all minorities,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch. “It also shows that the provincial or central authorities are basically unable or unwilling to protect minorities.”

The government had been considering reforming the laws and Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, had drafted a reformed law. Following the death of Mr Taseer, that plan was scrapped.

As it is, a court in the Pakistani city of Multan last month registered a blasphemy case against Ms Rehman, the accusation relating to a television discussion in 2010 about reforming the laws. And Pakistan’s pain continues.