Created: Tuesday, 15 February 2011 13:51
Written by Hassan Javid
On 4 January Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, one of his own bodyguards. In the months prior to the assassination, Taseer had spoken publicly in favour of amending Pakistan’s controversial anti-blasphemy law, and this provided the pretext for his assassination.
The scope of the law against blasphemy, introduced in the colonial era, was widened in 1985 by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq who made blasphemy against Islam punishable by death. Between 1925 and 1985, fewer than two dozen people were ever tried for blasphemy. But since 1985, more than 4,000 people have been taken to court for alleged blasphemy, while thousands more await trial. Having someone imprisoned for blasphemy is ridiculously easy, and is often used to settle petty scores. While many of the accused are eventually acquitted, they may spend years in jail. Convictions are often based on the flimsiest of evidence. While higher courts have always commuted the sentences imposed by lower courts in these cases, ensuring that no one has yet been executed under this law, life imprisonment is guaranteed for convicted ‘blasphemers’. Furthermore, many of those convicted, and even some who are acquitted, are killed anyway, targeted by the police, fellow prisoners and, sometimes, mobs in the grip of religious frenzy.
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