The Guardian view on blasphemy in Pakistan: a dark moment for religious freedom approaches

The supreme court in Lahore will on Thursday hear the appeal of Asia Bibi against her death sentence for blasphemy. It is a case that has already cost two lives: that of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, who spoke out in her defence, and his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered the governor for defending her and was himself hanged.

Qadri was described as a saint and a martyr for his crime by many in Pakistan, and by some prominent mosques in Britain. This is a poisonous mess. Successive generations of Pakistani politicians – most notably Zia ul-Haq – have used the statutes on blasphemy as a way to combine religious fanaticism with the fear and resentment of outsiders.

Almost all societies have speech codes enforced by law and reinforced by public opinion. The blasphemy law of Pakistan is not just an affront to liberal decencies; the evidence points to it being used as a tool to persecute minorities. It also involves a distortion and coarsening of the sharia principles it claims to embody. Bad as the Islamic laws against apostasy are – and they are very bad indeed – they can by definition only apply to Muslims. [150 comments]

[TOP RATED COMMENT 73 votes] “Large demonstrations already demand her death.”

And yet there are plenty who claim Islam does not need reforming.

[2ND 63] Pakistan is the biggest recipient of British aid. We send them more than £400 million a year. So we should start making demands about its deteriorating human rights record. If they continue to let bad neighbours use the blasphemy law to murder people they dislike, stop sending money.

[3RD 63] Blasphemy in Islam seems not to be just about God, but to cover everything relating to Islamic religion and Islamic culture. Quite unbelievable and not very logical. The less we have to do with countries like Pakistan the better off we shall be.

[4TH 52] We should shut down all dealings with Pakistan if this is not rectified at appeal. What is the merit of wringing our hands if we are still prepared to deal with such evil?

[5TH 50] The elephant in the room is that this woman is a Christian. Grudges against Christians in Pakistan are routinely used to rid people of someone they don’t like or have had a dispute with. Being a Christian in such a society is virtually an impending death sentence; I’m just surprised that the whole family haven’t been convicted of blasphemy.

Pakistani Muslims hate Christians (and Jews) with a vengeance, though they are hardly alone in that. What has appalled me is seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury welcoming the imam who lauded the murderer of the Punjabi governor who tried to help Asia Bibi, praising him as a hero of Islam. Welby should be ashamed. [The Guardian] Read more

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