Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 25 November 2010
Pakistan’s "blasphemy law": the facts
Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia
The blasphemy law (Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code) originally offered equal protection for all religions and lenient sentences, but in the 1980s and 1990s amendments were introduced alongside an increasing Islamisation of the Pakistan constitution. These changes mean that desecration of the Quran is now punishable by mandatory life imprisonment and, "defiling the name of Muhammad" carries a mandatory death sentence. Because there is no penalty for false accusation, the law is often exploited to settle personal scores and grudges. Christians and other non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation as there is a tendency for the judiciary in the lower courts to believe the word of a Muslim over the word of a non-Muslim, in line with the teachings of sharia. Though no-one has yet been executed for blasphemy, some have been murdered by zealous Muslims, and sometimes their relatives and communities have also been attacked. Many of those charged have spent months or years in custody while their cases are considered.
Parliament House of Pakistan at night
What does the law say?
Offences related to religion:
Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class:
Whoever, destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs:
Whoever with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan by words, either spoken or written or by visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, or with fine, or with both.
The Blasphemy Laws:
Defiling etc. of copy of Holy Qur'an:
Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.
Use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet:
Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.
Christians and the blasphemy law
Only two of the four parts of the law cause problems for Christians. The non-problematical parts are 295 and 295-A, which deal respectively with defiling places of worship or sacred objects and with outraging the religious feelings of others. The offence must be intentional or deliberate, and the maximum sentence is two years for 295 or ten years for 295-A, with the option of a fine as well or instead.
The parts of the law that cause difficulties for Christians are 295-B, which was added in 1982, and 295-C, which was added in 1986. Both these parts protect only Islam, rather than all religions. Section 295-C omits any requirement for the offence to be committed deliberately.
Section 295-B covers defiling, damaging or desecrating a copy of the Qur'an, which is to be punished with life imprisonment. Section 295-C is concerned with defiling the name of Muhammad, a crime that was at first punishable by death or by life imprisonment. In 1991 the life imprisonment option was removed, leaving a mandatory death sentence.