Pakistan is using its blasphemy code to silence opponents

Although no one has been executed, it has become a means of terrorising Pakistan’s remaining liberal voices

 

Share

The murder this week of Rashid Rehman, a human rights lawyer, draws attention once again to the dangerous fragility of the Pakistani state. Mr Rehman was defending Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer charged with blasphemy after the student wing of a religious political party accused him of insulting the Prophet Mohamed.

Pakistan’s original blasphemy law carried a maximum prison sentence of two years. It was under the rule of the military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq that the law was given a specifically Islamic complexion, carrying a mandatory sentence of either life in prison or death. The secularly inclined strongman Pervez Musharraf tried to abolish it but was unable to prevail against the religious establishment. This pernicious law remains on the books.

Although no one has been executed, it has become a means of terrorising Pakistan’s remaining liberal voices – honourable exceptions include Mr Rehman and his formidable colleague on the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jehangir – into silence and inactivity. Among those on death row is a 70-year-old British citizen, Muhammad Asghar, whose cause this newspaper has championed. He was sentenced in January after being convicted of claiming he was a prophet. His lawyers and family say he has been suffering from mental health problems for several years.

Rashid Rehman had no illusions about the risks he ran in defending Mr Hafeez. In court, three men, two of them allegedly lawyers, shouted out that this would be his last court appearance because next time “you will not exist any more”. Citing this, Mr Rehman asked for protection, but the police failed to provide it.

Secular liberals have bawled themselves hoarse about the dangers posed by the sort of fanatics who killed Mr Rehman. The time is long overdue for their voices to be joined by those of the many devout Muslims who understand that intolerance, intimidation and cold-blooded murder have no place in their religion. The world is waiting.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Peter Mandelson first resigned from the cabinet on 23 December 1998  

2015's dim-sum index has too many courses

John Rentoul
 

I'm just as merry without a drink, thank you

Fiona Sturges
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015