Clerics arrested for celebrating Salman Taseer's murder
Over 100 clerics were arrested by police in Pakistan's Punjab province for celebrating the 6th death anniversary of liberal Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer. Taseer was killed after he visited Asia Bibi who was on death sentence under the blasphemy law, which he opposed and called the "black law." Police disrupted a rally that was organized in Gulberg, arresting 100 clerics who had gathered.
The origin of Pakistan's blasphemy law
Pakistan's laws on offences related to religion were first codified in 1860 by India's British rulers. The laws were subsequently expanded in 1927, and Pakistan inherited them post-independence. The laws were amended again in the period from 1980 to 1986, and several clauses were added by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in order to "Islamicise" them.
What does the blasphemy law say?
The laws enacted by the British criminalized acts such as trespass on burial grounds, disturbing a religious community, insulting religious beliefs and so on. The laws were 'Islamicised' from 1980-1986. The new clauses criminalized derogatory remarks against Islamic personalities; imprisonment was the prescribed punishment. They also prescribed life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran, and a death penalty for insulting Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy law cases since 1987
Data from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a NGO formed in 1987, says that the majority of people booked under the blasphemy law are Muslims, followed by the Ahmadi community who were declared non-Muslim in 1973. Although the vast majority of such cases were lodged for desecration of the Koran, only a few cases were filed for insulting Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy cases in numbers
According to data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987.
Why are the laws not amended by the government?
Although amending the blasphemy law has been on the agenda for the majority of Pakistan's secular parties, not much progress has been made as most secular parties try to avoid antagonizing the religious parties. Furthermore, correspondents have said that, due to the sensitive nature of the issue, critics of the blasphemy law also face serious threats from fundamentalists.
Who is Asia Bibi?
In 2010, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, became the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. The sentence was passed for insulting Prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim women over a bowl of water. However, the date for the execution was not set, and the verdict had to be upheld by a superior court.
Developments in the Asia Bibi case
After years of postponement, the first hearing of Asia Bibi's appeal took place in October 2014 where the Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence. In November 2014, Asia Bibi's husband appealed to President Mamnoon Hussain for clemency, and her lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court. In July 2016, the Supreme Court suspended the death sentence for the duration of the appeals process.
Hearing of Asia Bibi's final appeal adjourned
Asia Bibi's long-awaited final appeal against the death sentence for blasphemy, was adjourned by the Supreme Court after one of the three judges on the panel stepped down. The judge, Muhammad Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, said he was unfit to rule on the case because he served in the bench which heard the assassination case of Salman Taseer, who advocated Asia Bibi's release.