Exclusive: Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws: A Timeline

by ADRIAN MORGAN October 9, 2009
Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws derive from a colonial British Penal Code written originally in 1860. Originally, this code contained only a few clauses protecting the sensibilities of religious people. The blasphemy laws as they are now known were brought in incrementally via amendments. The first registered blasphemy case took place in 1927. From 1927 to 1984 there were only nine registered cases of blasphemy in the region known now as Pakistan.
 
In 1982 and 1986, amendments were introduced to the blasphemy laws that imposed strong punishments. Pakistan at that time was under a repressive Islamist regime led by General Zia ul-Haq. The revised blasphemy laws became a vehicle for fundamentalists to persecute those who did not share their outlook. The laws were also convenient ways to settle personal scores. The rate of reported blasphemy cases increased exponentially. From 1984 to 2004, about 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered.
 
Data from the NCJP (National Commission for Justice and Peace) reveals that from 1986 until August 2009, a total of 964 people had been charged under blasphemy statutes. These comprised 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy have been extra-judicially killed.
 
So far, even though numerous individuals have received death sentences for blasphemy, no one has been hanged. Higher court appeals judges generally throw out cases where this sentence has been imposed by lower courts. From the moment of accusation until final acquittal, the person must remain in jail. A person given the death penalty usually spends around seven years before being freed through appeal. In prison the convict is shunned and often threatened, or attacked.
 
The timeline below is by no means a complete account, but it does present a selection of important events related to Pakistan's blasphemy legislation. I suggest that readers also consult the timelines here and here.
 
The timeline is a supplement to the article presented on Family Security Matters this week on the oppression of religious minorities in Pakistan (Parts One, Part Two and Part Three).
 
1860
The original Penal Code is written, intended by the British Raj to govern West Pakistan.
 
1927
Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, XXV of 1927. This adds two new articles to Section 295 of the Penal Code. Section 295-A prohibits "Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs." Section 295-B is introduced, to deal with "Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur'an."
 
August 11, 1947
Pakistan becomes independent from Britain. The 1860 penal code is carried over into the legislation of Pakistan.
 
1982
P.P.C. (Amendment) Ordinance, I, further amends Section 295-B extends penalty options to include life imprisonment. This ordinance also introduces another article: Section 295-C, which outlaws "Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet."
 
1986
Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, III of 1986, Schedule 2, makes further additions, adding the option of "death penalty" to Section 295-C, and made a minor amendment to Section 296 (Disturbing religious assembly).
 
July 21, 1992
Tahir Iqbal, a convert to Christianity from Islam, was said to have insulted Mohammed. In July 1991, a judge said that being a convert to Christianity (and an apostate from Islam) was an offense. While in custody, Tahir Iqbal would be poisoned on July 21, 1992.
 
1992 - exact date unverified:
Nawaz Sharif's government, under pressure from Islamic organizations, removes from Section 295-C ("derogatory terms against Prophet Mohammed") the option of imposing a life sentence. As a result, convicted "blasphemers" are given a mandatory death sentence.
 
January 6, 1992
Blasphemy accused individual Niamat Ahmer, described as a teacher, poet and writer was killed in custody. Niamat Amer was murdered in Faisalabad, but no charges had been officially made against him. His killer, Farooq Ahmad, said that Amer had verbally insulted Mohammed and Islam.
 
January 6, 1992
Accused of blasphemy, 80-year-old Bantu Masih. Bantu was stabbed in front of police officers.
 
July 1995
Catherine Shaheen, a teacher from Lahore in Punjab province was denied her salary because of accusations of blasphemy. She went into hiding, following threats of death from fundamentalists.
 
October 14, 1996
Ayub Masih is arrested. He is accused of blaspheming Mohammed by suggesting that someone should read Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. The charges are false, but it takes six years for the case to be thrown out.
 
April 27, 1998
Ayub Masih, a Christian, is sentenced to death for blaspheming against Mohammed (Section 295-C). On November 6, 1997, he had been shot at in Sahiwal court house.
 

 
May 6, 1998
Bishop John Joseph commits suicide. He shoots himself with a pistol at the Sahiwal court house. He has planned his death as a protest against the blasphemy laws, which were widely used to oppress the Christian community. He dies at the spot where Ayub Masih had been shot at earlier.
 
May 10, 1998
Bishop John Joseph, human rights activist, is buried in Faisalabad, seat of his diocese.
 
May 13, 1998:
Roman Catholic Church makes urgent calls for lawyers to represent the appeal of Christian bricklayer Ayub Mashih against his death sentence for blasphemy.
 
April 20, 2000
General Musharraf, prior to calling a general election, promises to ensure that a senior civil servant examines cases of blasphemy before charges are made.
 
May 17, 2000
General Musharraf, following pressure from Islamic groups, announces that he has abandoned his proposed change to blasphemy case procedure, and the law is to remain unchanged.
 
August 18, 2001:
Younus Shaikh, rights activist and lecturer on homeopathic medicine, given death sentence under Section 295-C at Islamabad additional sessions court.
 
March 24, 2003
Two men, Mohammed Shahzad and Mohammed Yousaf are arrested after allegedly burning two copies of the Koran on a stove. These were recovered by police. (see Jan. 31, 2004)
 
August 8, 2003
A man said by his relatives to be mentally unstable was given a death sentence at Bahawalnagar Additional Sessions Court. The man, Bashir Ahmed, apparently claimed he was sent by God to be a reformer, and allegedly claimed to be a prophet. It was said he paid people to come to his sermons.
 
November 12, 2003
Niaz Ahmed, a 55-year-old Muslim, receives death sentence for allegedly insulting Mohammed (Section 295-C). Ahmed's relatives claim that the case against him was fabricated, and stemmed from the enmity of a man named Muhammad Baqir.
 
November 21, 2003:
Younus Shaikh is acquitted and freed from jail (see above), after appeal and retrial. The news is initially suppressed to ensure his physical safety.
 
November 28, 2003
Anwar Masih, a Christian laborer is arrested for blasphemy after a religious discussion with an acquaintance who had converted to Islam three months earlier. The convert gathered two others to pelt Masih's house with stones. Police take note of the "blasphemy" accusation, but ignore the violence carried out by the accuser and his accomplices.
 
January 31, 2004
Muhammad Yousaf and Muhammad Shahzad (see Mar 24, 2003) are given life sentences.
 
April 10, 2004
Younus Shaikh (see above) addresses the annual conference of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and states: "I feel I have been a victim of Islamic Mullah terrorism through the abuse of the state apparatus and the civil law. My first trial was a show trial almost reminiscent of the trials and tortures of the infamous Spanish inquisition, and the trials and burning of European women as witches.... The blasphemy law has brought shame on Pakistan. The law itself is unjust and inequitable, the offence it treats is poorly defined and open to abuse, and its operation has been widely misused and abused."
 
May 26, 2004
27-year-old Samuel Masih is charged under blasphemy laws, Section 295 (Injuring or defiling place of worship, with Intent to insult the religion of any class). This older section of the religious laws can only gain a two-year jail sentence at maximum. He had been accused of leaving litter on the wall of a mosque on August 23, 2003. The charges are brought against Samuel as he lies in a critical condition. A policeman, Constable Faryad Ali, hit him on the head with a brick-cutter on May 22, allegedly saying: "I wanted to earn a place in heaven by killing him."
 
May 28, 2004
Samuel Masih (previous entry) dies from his injuries.
 
July 28, 2004
Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat comes back from UK to tell reporters that misuse of the blasphemy laws would not be tolerated and his "government would amend any law which discriminates against Pakistani citizens because the Constitution guarantees equality to everyone irrespective to the sect, or religion they belong to."
 
July 30, 2004
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Ijaz ul-Haq (son of General Zia ul-Haq) tells reporters that blasphemy cases would need to be investigated by a police superintendent before charges can be laid. This is a variant of a 2002 pledge by General Musharraf (abandoned a month later) which would have involved a civil servant (rather than a police superintendent) to investigate blasphemy-related cases before charges are filed.
 
October 18, 2004
A Christian family forced to flee their home in Wah Cantt in Punjab province after their 11-year-old daughter accidentally put a copy of the Koran in garbage, two months earlier. A neighbor saw the Koran in the garbage and the family were threatened with violence. The family left with the help of the authorities after warnings that their home would be burned. No charges were brought.
 
November 2, 2004
NCJP announced that the government had ignored recommendations made in 1996 by the UN Special Rapporteur that the blasphemy laws be made compatible with human rights.
 
November 12, 2004
A journalist is acquitted and freed after four years in jail. On January 29, 2001, Munawar Mohsin Ali was arrested for allowing a "blasphemous" letter to be printed in the Frontier Post newspaper. On July 8, 2003, he had been sentenced to life imprisonment, even though a doctor ruled he was mentally unwell. At the appeal, the bench said that the prosecution "failed to prove that the appellant had intentionally published the letter.”
 
November 30, 2004
Iqbal Ahmad is sentenced to life imprisonment under the blasphemy laws. He was also fined 10,000 rupees.
 
February 23, 2005
A 30-year-old Christian, described as a magician/exorcist, is given a 7-year jail term under Section 295-B, for allegedly desecrating the Koran. Bashir Masih allegedly confessed to tearing up a Koran, claiming it was part of his magic.
 
June 28, 2005
A 60-year-old illiterate Christian street sweeper, Yousaf Masih in Naushera, Punjab province, is spotted by a child burning pages of the Koran. The boy reported Yousaf and on the same night a Hindu temple was burned. Masih claimed to only follow orders from his employer to dispose of garbage. Yousaf was charged under Section 295-B (desecration of the Koran) and Section 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs).
 
August 12, 2005
Younis Sheikh (no relation to Younus Shaikh) is given a life sentence for publishing a book in which he described early imams who guided the first Islamic community as "Jews." He also claimed that the penalty for adultery of stoning to death was "not mentioned in the Koran" – a statement considered blasphemous.
 
September 19, 2005
An alliance of 22 Sunni religious organizations gathered together to demand that Younis Masih, a Christian from Amer Sidhu, be hanged immediately. Masih had been charged on September 10, 2005, under Section 295-C after he made insulting remarks about Mohammed at a wedding party. Masih was beaten up by Christians and Muslims and Christians had to flee the area. Punjab's minority affairs minister, Joyce Rufin, had no sympathy. She said: "Any person who intentionally disrupts the atmosphere of peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians, needs to be punished by the law." A mob of 200 Muslims had attacked the neighborhood where Younis Masih lived, causing 50 Christian families to flee.
 
November 12, 2005
Yousaf Masih was accused of desecrating a Koran by burning its pages and is place in jail too await trial under Section 295-B. A mob of Muslims, spurred on by calls from a local mosque's loudspeakers, attack Christian community in Sangla Hill, Punjab province. Churches, a school and other buildings are destroyed.
 
November 25, 2005
An Islamic cleric registers blasphemy charges against two named individuals and several others (unnamed) in Baghbanpura, Punjab province. The accused are said to have published literature denigrating the Deobandi sect (which shares the same ideology as the Taliban). Charges registered under Sections 295-A and 298-A of the penal code.
 
December 8, 2005
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in the Times about Sangla Hill and maintains that he "sees signs of hope." The hope that he claims to see lies in interfaith dialogue, failing to appreciate that when one group is small and oppressed, there is no true "dialogue," only the monologue of the group with power.
 
January 5, 2006
An Ahmadiyya (Ahmadi) imam and four other people were charged under Section 298-C of the PPC. Because the Ahmadis had referred to Allah, they had called Prophet Mohammed their "beloved master" they had – by law – suggested they were Muslims and therefore had broken the terms of Section 298-C which deliberately discriminates against Ahmadis who declare themselves to be Muslims.
 
January 25, 2006
Zebunissa, a woman who was accused in 1996 of desecrating verses from the Koran (Section 295-B) is transferred from Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore to a mental hospital, where she is declared to be mentally retarded. At no stage since her arrest and imprisonment has she been before a court. As of writing (October 8th) she is still not free.
 
February 13, 2006
An alliance of traders of all political parties (APOSTCI) announces a strike to be held on March 13th to complain about Danish cartoon images, considered "blasphemous."
 
February 18, 2006
64 men who were charged in connection with attacks against the Christian community in Sangla Hill on November 12, 2005, were ordered by a court in Lahore to be released on bail bonds. Later, all charges are dropped.
 
February 23, 2006
Yousaf Masih, who was falsely accused of desecrating a Koran, was acquitted by Lahore Anti Terrorist Court. The accusation against Masih had led to a Muslim riot against Christians at Sangla Hill on November 12, 2005.
 
March 6, 2006
An imam in Ganj Mandi, Rawalpindi was charged under Section 295-B for desecrating a Koran. Maulvi Arif confessed that he had only tried to burn an extinct copy of the Koran "in accordance with Shariat."
 
December 12, 2006
Man arrested in Gojra for using offensive language against Allah in a conversation with others. Ghulam Mustafa attacked a cigarette shop owner who had asked him to stop.
 
May 9, 2007
A brother's attempt to have Abdul Hameed released from jail is rejected by Lahore High Court. The brother maintains that Hameed, who is accused under Section 295-C, is faring badly in jail and that five doctors had judged Abdul Hameed to be mentally ill.
 
May 9, 2007
79-year-old Walter Fazal Khan was taking a bath. A man called Riaz, who lived in the house, knocked on the door and said something was burning in the house. A burnt Koran was found in one of the rooms, and Riaz brought Islamic clerics to the house, who tried to beat Walter. The 79-year-old was then charged under Section 295-B (desecrating a Koran).
 
May 19, 2007
100 Muslims petition Samanabad Police Station demanding a proper investigation into the truth behind the suspicious circumstances of the arrest and charge of Walter Fazal Khan under Section 295-B
 
May 29, 2007
79-year-old Walter Fazal Khan is granted bail by an additional sessions judge at Lahore.
 
June 1, 2007
On this date, a FIR report is lodged against Christian nurses at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS). They and their supervisor Stella Nazir were suspended. Accusations were made that – on May 17, 2007 – these had desecrated the Koran. The actions were brought by students connected to the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, part of the Red Mosque complex. The "Koran" referred to was a water cooler that bore some verses of the Koran. These had been defaced.
 
June 1, 2007
The Director of PIMS, Dr. Amjad, registers a complaint under Section 295B. Stella Nazir, the Staff Nursing College Principal and four others are suspended. Students from the Jamia Hafsa and the Red Mosque, wielding batons, tried to forcibly gain control of the nurses' hostel, but were prevented from entering.
 

 
June 6, 2007
84-year-old Gladys Walter, the wife of Walter Fazal Khan, died in hospital. On May 9, 2007, her 79-year-old husband had been accused of blasphemy, and on the same day Gladys had converted to Islam. Her husband said his wife was in a coma when she had allegedly converted and could not speak.
 
June 9, 2007
Quote: "Shahdra Town police station registered a case against a mentally-challenged man, Nadir Ali, under blasphemy laws on the complaint of Shahid Maqbool, a relative of the accused who lived in the upper portion of Nadir's house on rent. Later the police confessed that it lodged the FIR against Nadir due to pressure exerted by people of the community. They also confirmed that Shahid wanted to grab Nadir's property."
 
June 19, 2007
Ijaz ul-Haq officially withdrew his statement made on June 18, 2007 that if Britain failed to withdraw the knighthood given to Salman Rushdie, suicide bombers against Britain would be "justified."
 
January 27, 2007
Jamaat-i-Islami party warns that it will challenge any amendment or abolition of blasphemy statutes by staging nationwide protests.
 
May 31, 2007
First use of video evidence in a blasphemy trial. For reasons of security, Younis Masih gives evidence from jail. He is sentenced to death for breaching Section 295-C.
 
December 11, 2007
Lahore High Court acquitted a man previously convicted under blasphemy legislation. On June 23, Muhammad Sharif had been given life imprisonment and a 50,000 rupee fine. The High Court said that police should firstly check the truth of blasphemy claims before bringing charges.
 
April 8, 2008
A 25-year-old Hindu, Jagdish Kumar, was tortured and beaten to death after he allegedly blasphemed against Prophet Mohammed. Kumar worked in a factory, and was murdered by his co-workers who tried to burn his body. He was killed for comments he had made in a discussion about religion.
 
June 18, 2008
In Sialkot, Punjab province, Shafeeq Lateef gets death sentence for blasphemy. He was charged under Section 295-C for making derogatory remarks about Mohammed, and additionally he was fined 500,000 rupees for desecrating a Koran, breaching Section 295-B. Lateef had originally been charged on March 17, 2006.
 
July 26, 2008
In a suburb of Karachi, Munawar Babar was severely beaten by a lynch mob but was rescued by police and charged. Some police were also injured by the mob. Babar claimed to be a faith healer and had allegedly performed "blasphemous acts" which provoked the crowd to want to kill him.
 
January 28, 2009
Four Ahmadi boys from Layyah, Punjab province, aged 14 to 16, were arrested in Layah disrict, accused of writing blasphemous graffiti in a mosque. The boys were invited earlier to visit the mosque, weeks before the accusations were made. The Human Richts Commission of Pakistan claimed that the only reason the boys were accused is that they were not "Muslims" and had been to the mosque – there was no evidence. A fifth individual, a man is his 40s, was subsequently arrested. The youths were charged under Section 295-C.
 
February 4, 2009
A newspaper report claims that after the arrest of four Amadi boys, the Ahmadi community suffers ostracism.Ten students have been expelled from a private tuition center because of their religion, and shopkeepers refuse to serve Ahmadis.
 
April 21, 2009
Supreme Court rejects an appeal against a Federal Sharia Court ruling that had declared that death is the only punishment for blasphemy allowed by Islamic law.
 
June 30, 2009
110 Christian families are forced to flee from their homes in Bahmniwala, Kasur district in Punjab province, accusing them of blasphemy. The unrest stems from an argument between a Christian and a Muslim which ended with the Christian charged under blasphemy legislation.
 
July 30, 2009
About 40 Christian's houses in the village of Korian, near Gojra, are burned down after accusations that Christians had desecrated the Koran at a local Christian wedding. Charges under Section 295-B were made.
 
August 1, 2009
Seven Christians, including two children, are burned alive in Gojra. Pope Benedict XVI subsequently condemns the attack. Sipah-i-Sahaba activists are later blamed for the attack.
 
August 4, 2009
A factory owner is killed by a mob, and two others killed, after the proprietor removed an old Islamic calendar from the wall and put it on a table. The calendar bore words from the Koran, so he was accused of desecrating a Koran.
 
August 11, 2009
Interior Minister Rehman Malik tells National Assembly that provincial authorities had been asked to be vigilant towards activities of banned Islamist group Sipah-i-Sahaba
 
September 1, 2009
The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Human Rights urges government to re-examine blasphemy laws and procedures of enforcement. Faisalabad Regional Police Officer (RPO) Ahmed Raza blamed Punjab constabulary for disobeying orders during the Gojra attack.
 
September 15, 2009
A 19-year-old Christian from a village near Sialkot was found dead in jail. "Robert" Fanish Masih had been in jail since September 11th, accused under Section 295-B. Though police claimed he strangled himself, his death is regarded by many as a result of violence. He had head wounds.
 
September 17, 2009
Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for minority affairs, is in Washington D.C. A Christian, he promises the U.S .Commission on International Religious Freedom that "the Pakistani government is to review, revisit and amend blasphemy laws so it will not remain a tool in the hands of extremists."
 
September 19, 2009
Chaudry Shujaat Hussain, president of the PML-Q party (the party Musharraf belongs to) pledged his party to protesting any change to the existing blasphemy laws. He claimed that it was the duty of every Muslim to defend the blasphemy laws.
 
October 6, 2009
Former information minister Sherry Rehman and Jamila Gilani (a member of the National Assembly) called in the National Assembly for the blasphemy laws to be repealed. Sahibzada Fazal Karim, Central President of the JUP, responded: "We will not allow it." The JUP is the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Assembly of Pakistani Clergy), an Islamist party.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. He is currently compiling a book on the demise of democracy and the growth of extremism in Britain.

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