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Budget brawl in National Assembly uncovers duplicity of Pak's blasphemy laws

ANI | Updated: Jun 24, 2021 11:20 IST

Islamabad [Pakistan], June 24 (ANI): Pakistan's National Assembly which witnessed a brawl between the government and opposition parliamentarians last week during the federal budget discussion, has uncovered Pakistan's duplicity over the country's blasphemy laws that carry the death penalty.
Expressing disappointment over the Imran Khan-led government's budget proposals, the opposition parties in the Assembly were even seen throwing objects at one another including budget literature that carried holy Islamic names and verses.
According to Daily Pakistan, certain activists posed pertinent questions with regards to the unhinged scenes that were witnessed in the National Assembly and concerns raising over why these parliamentarians have not gone on trial under the blasphemy laws.
Observers noticed that even Muslims have been targeting through these laws as well in Pakistan, they are especially used to target religious minorities, with many being sentenced to death for binning papers carrying holy Islamic names or even sending text messages.
One prominent case in this regard was that of Rimsha Masih, who in 2012 as a then 14-year-old was charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning pages from the Holy Quran. Rimsha was later acquitted from all the charges and it was discovered that the imam who had reported her of blasphemy was actually the one who had planted the pages to accuse her. After being acquitted Rimsha and her family had to go into self-exile in Canada, underlining how even false blasphemy accusations are fatal for religious minorities in the country.
Observers rightly questioned at the time why the imam who had accused Rimsha wasn't charged with blasphemy.
"There are as many definitions and positions on blasphemy as there are Muslim countries and scholars," said Engage Pakistan Director Arafat Mazhar. "Many Muslim countries have laws that deal with religious or sacred figures, or religion as a whole, as opposed to the very specific laws enacted in Pakistan," he added.

Earlier this month, a Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel were released from prison after being arrested for blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2014. They were accused of sending blasphemous text messages. It was later discovered that the couple are illiterate and cannot even read the words that were considered sacrilegious enough to send them to the gallows.
At least 77 people have been extrajudicially killed over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan. Over a 1,000 are imprisoned and hundreds have had to flee the country as a security measure surrounding such legislation.
The release of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel came a little over a month after the European Union adopted a resolution condemning Pakistan's blasphemy law. The EU also linked Pakistan's GSP+ trade status, and the economic benefits that come with it, to progress on the legislation in general and the case of the Christian couple in particular.
"It is a clear political signal that the GSP+ status is not a one-way street. It is premised on the understanding that the partnering country would stick to some human rights, transparency, accountability and other criteria," said European Parliament member Reinhard Butikofer.
Criticism of the misuse of the blasphemy laws or the law itself has been fatal for even those in power. Former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his security guard in 2011 for criticising the law and defending a blasphemy accused Asia Bibi. Asia was proven innocent and released from prison in 2018, after which she too had to flee the country. Former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti too was gunned down for his support of Asia Bibi and claims that Pakistan's blasphemy law is open to abuse.
"Asia Bibi's case is one of many that demonstrate Pakistan's complicated relationship with blasphemy laws and its challenges in maintaining public order in the face of a blasphemy allegation, especially when the accused belongs to a religious minority," notes analyst Adnan Ahmed.
"Individuals with mental illness or intellectual deficits have sometimes been affected by the Pakistani blasphemy laws," he added.
Questions over the duplicity of Pakistan's duplicity over blasphemy are also asked with other religions are outraged with impunity. Recently the social media page of a clothing brand published a post offensive to Hinduism, a practice which has also been undertaken by members of the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Aamir Liaquat Hussain and Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan.
Observers hope that Prime Minister Imran Khan takes these realities into account and addresses them with as much intensity as he speaks up against Islamophobia in the West. (ANI)