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October 1st, 2012
04:30 PM ET

Explainer: Pakistan's blasphemy laws

By Reza Sayah, CNN

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) - It has been more than a month since a teenage Christian girl was charged in Pakistan under the country's blasphemy laws . Her accusers say she burned pages from the Quran, Islam's holy book. Amid twists in her case, including changed statements by witnesses, she is facing life in prison.

On Monday, CNN reported that three witnesses whose testimony could absolve the 14-year-old Rimsha Masih have changed their statements, a potential setback for her. She has denied the charges.

The case has drawn the country's complex laws about blasphemy into the spotlight. Here is a primer on those laws.

What are the major stipulations of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and what exactly do they prohibit?

Pakistan’s blasphemy law makes it a crime to destroy or damage the Quran or to insult the Prophet Mohammed.

The following are two sections of the law as they appear in Pakistan’s penal code:

Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life.

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 (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

When were Pakistan's blasphemy laws adopted? What fueled them?

 According to the public policy think tank Jinnah Institute, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws originated in British colonial laws drafted in 1860 to protect religious beliefs and customs.

In the 1980s, under the rule of hardline Islamist and military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the laws were amended to include life imprisonment and the death penalty.

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Zia-ul-Haq accused previous governments of leading the country away from the principles of Islam and openly stated his mission to return Pakistan to a conservative Islamist state. Zia-ul-Haq’s reign is widely viewed as the “Islamization” of Pakistan.

Critics say that soon after the blasphemy law was amended under Zia-ul-Haq, many accusers began misusing the law and exploiting Pakistan’s ineffective justice system to settle personal scores and persecute minorities.

The Jinnah Institute says nine cases of blasphemy were reported in Pakistan between 1929 and 1982. Over the past 15 years, the number of cases has reached into the thousands.

What are the big Pakistani blasphemy cases in recent years that got international attention? How were they resolved?

In November 2010, Christian laborer Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. The sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail.

Months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both moderate Pakistani politicians – were assassinated after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

In May 2010, militants attacked two mosques and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadi sect, minority Muslims often viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis in Pakistan.

Why have some hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan rejected the call to change the blasphemy law and gone as far as praising the assassination of politicians who pushed for change?

Aasim Sajjad, a political analyst and professor of history at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam Univeristy, blames a succession of governments, leaders and institutions that have directly or indirectly either promoted or tolerated a hardline Islamist mindset.

“There are very well-entrenched structures of power that exist in this society,” Sajjad said. “Some of them have to do with how this state and its institutions are set up. Those deeply established structures are part of the answer why this continues to happen.

“What one needs to emphasize is how since its inception, the state has depicted itself as citadel of a particular kind of religious ideology. And what’s well-established is the direction of the state towards a self-proclaimed Islamic state during the late '70s and '80s. I think that was a fundamental turning point," he said.

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“Today, there is a wide cross-section of society that tolerates this, and I think there’s also an environment of fear where they feel that if they do stand up against it, they will be targeted. The primary sentiment is one of ‘keep your head down and don’t get yourself involved, because if you do, then you’re going to be set up to be jailed or killed,' " the professor said.

Is there any chance of meaningful debate or change when it comes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws?

“I think it’s going to take a visionary political leadership which is willing to be courageous and take a stand to generate popular support,” Sajjad said.

“But my sense is that the mainstream political forces in this country have the same approach as most everyday Pakistanis, which is just put your head down and don’t take up these issues. Until a popular constituency develops, political will won’t be generated. Until a political will is generated, a popular constituency may not be developed.

“It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Islamic law • Pakistan • Quran

soundoff (1,048 Responses)
  1. Cannibalism in India

    The Aghori or Aghouri is a Hindu cult that is considered to have split off from the Kapalika order in the fourteenth century AD. They have cannibalistic rituals. The streets of northern Indian cities are littered with followers of this cult carrying a kapala, which is a cup made from a skull! These bizarre people will eat anything from rotten food to animal faeces. In order to achieve the highest citadel of enlightenment, the Aghori will perform horrendously crude rituals. The finality of their rituals is attained from eating the decaying flesh of a human.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      what do expect from a hindu, filthy, they are hindu sanatans, filthy man gods of hindu' ignorant, and hindered gutter called india is full of them. nothing but hindu, filth of dark ages like their cow mam's dung.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  2. TheRationale

    If you grow up in a brainwashed country and are under penalty of death if you so much as sneeze in the wrong direction, how can you blame some of these people for tacitly "supporting" these laws? They've been infected by the worst of plagues.

    The Islam that governs countries like this is evil. Maybe "your" brand of Islam isn't, but the ones over there is.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Pinkflam

    "Explainer: Pakistan's blasphemy laws"
    One does not try to explain insanity, one merely locks it away where it can't hurt anyone or one puts it out of its misery. Islam is not a religion; it is a political ideology like Nazism or Communism. It does not deserve the tolerance, respect, and protection afforded religions.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  4. David Galfont_North Dakota_USA

    I am getting bad vibes reading about Hindus and Indians and their culture. I have read up on them as well and don't like what I see. How can our government be supporting India, a culture so brutal and anti women, children and minorities. I have put in a call to our congressional delegation and emailed them as well opposing any further financial aid/support of any kind to India. We Americans cannot condone such archaic cultures. I urge all Americans to contact their congress people and voice their concerns regarding India.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Pinkflam

      India seems to be doing quite well without our interference. I'm sure they would support your position.

      August 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Patrick Applebee

      Listen to this.....In some Haryana villages in India, the young girls are routinely threatened, abused and killed all under Khap (tribe/clan) verdicts. It is acceptable for the families to feed pesticide pills to the teenage girls and then dispose off their bodies by burning them without any police records.

      I have already communicated with my US Senator and expressed my reservations regarding India's values, culture and treatment of minorities. We can't tolerate such acts andIi for one refuse to be affiliated with such countries as an American. Period.

      August 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  5. Medieval India

    "SATI" – HINDU WIDOW BURNING!

    If the Hindu man's wife dies, he is free to go and find another beautiful woman when he wants. But if the Hindu woman's husband dies, not only is she prohibited to remarry but she should be cremated along with her dead husband ("Sati").

    When His "Holiness" Puri Shankaracharya was asked about the fate of the widow's children, he replied – "it is fate! Let the children suffer or die without a mother. But SATI has to be performed according to Hinduism".

    With such "Dark Age" culture still in existence in India how can the world be healthy and the neighbors prosperous. India poses a grave danger to the world and its deities and leaders set a bad example. Mahatma Gandhi, a pedophile, needs to
    be exposed and tried posthumously for his child molestation crimes just like the Penn State crowd Sandusky et al. Gandhi's statutes need to be knocked down everywhere they have been put in USA. The hindu deities need to be shattered and trashed. Disgusting figurines of ugly and scary looking characters with demonic personalities. How can hindu children grow up mentally stable looking at such atrocious representations of evil in its most heinous form.

    August 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  6. Reprinted With Permission ©

    Let's face it, India is a decadent culture and economy on the verge of collapse. India has become a dinosaur. A Smithsonian specimen. Like humpty dumpty even USA, NATO and the entire free world are having a tough time holding it together. Living in the shadows of Pakistan, defined by China, haunted by Kashmir and punctuated by Terror Organizations such as Shiv Sena, India is struggling to find a meaning for its existence and a place in the new world order. Here is my take on the ongoing civil war in India and its imminent disintegration.

    "Experimental Democracy" has failed in India. An experiment that was being shoved down India's throat by western countries too eager to propagate their own values on a country that was trying to decolonize itself while trying to shed the communist skin of being a Soviet ally. India was thus trapped. What has become evident now is that this "Experimental Democracy" has marginalized the country. The marginalized groups of the country – Dalits and ‘backward’ castes/classes, indigenous ‘tribal’ people and religious minorities have been disenfranchised. "The belief that corruption is the important issue in the country is shared only by the minority living in urban areas and towns who have been beneficiaries of economic liberalization policies mandated by western countries. The most important challenges of Indian society remain as follows: justice, social and economic equality and equal access to certain standards of life for all Indians. “While India seems too eager to please its western masters and put on a progressive and softer face for CNN for public consumption, people see through it. The consequences of this "Band – Aid" approach will be brutal for India geo-politically when it realizes that the GDP statistics that it has been relying to gage its progress has not amounted to much in the long run.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Suresh "Say it Again" Surinder

      We continue to be of the opinion that India is a zero sum event in history and that a break up of sorts is the optimum way to maximize its potential for the people. The current events in India reinforce our belief that the inevitable implosion of India has begun and the beginning of the end state is upon us. Whether that will be nirvana that most of us believe it will, is yet to be seen. But this we will say. This defragmentation of India will unleash boundless opportunities and uber economic demand that will be beneficial to US and Europe and help pull them out of current recessionary malaise. We pray for the events to unfold peacefully and in a harmonious manner for the people of India and its neighbors.

      August 25, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  7. Ganesh "Gunny" Snouty

    INDIA: Between two Deities: KALI & PANCHALI

    The problem with India is that is built on a system of cultural and societal values based on Hinduism which is a cult. Nations built on a cult seldom survive in the long run. Now just take a look at these two Hindu goddesses and the destruction and lack of morality they represent.

    Goddess Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. Disgusting, to say the least. Would you want your kids growing up with such inspiration?

    Meanwhile, goddess Panchali was married to five brothers. Which one would become the legitimate father of his child should she have one? Dr Charles (renowned author and an authority on India) says that instances of incest are common in Hindu scriptures. Decadent ! Immoral !

    Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!!

    August 25, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. wackapaki

    These people are the closest thing yet to "the missing link". We can never hope to educate the cave man out of them, nor is it likely that that gene pool will sort itself out on it's own. Frankly, our best bet is to leave them to themselves, and if they screw with us outside of their own cave, then we should remove a couple of the Wackistani nations from the map.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Anti_Jihad

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Their is nothing of hindu dark ages around but hinduism, denial of truth absolute, hinduism, absurdity of pot head hindu sanatans, criminal goons, hindu's ignorant's follow as their faith. No different than hindu's ignorant s of the cave age.

      August 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Pinkflam

      Actually, the gene pool always sorts itself out, and you have illuminated one mechanism by which it does so.

      August 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  9. sn0wb0arder

    when religion holds power, liberty can not flourish.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Liberty is in following of La. limit absolute, rest of it is hinduism, criminality of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute by their hindu Judaism, filthy self center ism, secularism.
      Word Jew is based on Latin word Yahood, Je or Ja, Ye, or Ya, meaning from heart and mind base word for Yes in English, HOOD, habit or habitat, meaning, self centered or a secular, denier of truth absolute, such as King, or Pig, in disregard to truth absolute and Judaism, One who takes a wow to be in violation of truth by his intent, considering himself to be the God, the truth absolute, same as in hindu, denier of truth absolute, word hindu is based on Latin word hindrance, negativity, HAN, great, Hun, to be in greatness and hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity, as in word Jew, a self centered or a criminal, otherwise known as a goon, a shaman. Judaism is not a religion but in opposition, defiance to truth absolute in self center ism..

      August 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  10. saggyroy

    Whether it is religious nuts here or there, it is all the same. Laws to protect "religious freedom" aka imposing your beliefs on others.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  11. Jim

    Religion is nothing more than people using the idea of god to force their narrow minded views on others. Religions have opinions. They do not possess truth. People have egos and the desire to dominate others. In weakness, the ego calls on their concept of god. It is like a 10 year old saying my Dad can beat up your Dad. Organized religion's conditioning has kept God's creations killing God's creations for thousands of years. It is time to grow up.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  12. Bob

    Sadly, for the followers for mohammed Peace is just a noun and not a verb

    August 25, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  13. bob c

    So much for a peaceful and compationet religion.

    August 25, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  14. Atheism is Healthy for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    Prayer has been shown to have no effect on what was prayed for. Critical examination of statements before they are accepted is essential to a healthy mind.

    August 25, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  15. Red Neck

    Where can one buy toilet rolls with pakistani flags and osama printed on them?

    August 25, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • old ben

      oooo – I want some with alternating sheets images of the bible and the quran on them!

      August 25, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  16. Reality

    THE SAFE AND EASY SOLUTIONS: (Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..)

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    August 25, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Jewel of Allah

      Allah, all praise be unto Him, actually has both male and female genitalia (how could it be otherwise?). Ibrahim knew this and was ashamed of Allah, all praise be unto Him, and began the lie that so many believe today that Allah, all praise be unto Him, is somehow male. Nothing of the sort! Self-copulation, practiced by those truly made in the image of Allah, all praise be unto Him, has always been the right and good practice of all who have been faithful to Him from the beginning. All should pray fervently that the sons of Ibrahim should turn away from Ibrahim's lie and self-copulate to the glory of Allah, all praise be unto Him.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Mona

      Turd of allah, zip it.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Butthead

      Huh, huh, huh, you said "self copulate", huh, huh, huh.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Jewel of Allah: WOW JUST FUCKING WOW
      There is an innocent child's life on the line here due to a country being so damn strict in a belief in the garbage you just spewed and somehow you still support this crap? Please explain to me how you figure a child who is mentally challenged could possibly have grasped the potential harm her actions would bring...she's not an adult, she has no ability to make complete rational decisions...she doesn't deserve this and your fucked up belief does not merit any respect!

      August 25, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Oh atheists care about children already born into the world, but, promote abortions so immature men can rid himself of his financial responsibility.

      August 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  17. Mstake

    This is so much Bulls**t,Pakistan is a typical 7th century muslim country that doesn't deserve to exist. Islam was founded by a pedophile who should have been killed when he was born.

    August 25, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  18. Kebos

    Backwards thinking by a mind-controlled population. Very pathetic.

    August 25, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  19. Kebos

    Looks like a nice neighborhood. Ha!

    August 25, 2012 at 7:00 am |
  20. RK Krishna

    At a meeting held in New Delhi , the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, said the rise of fundamentalism was “seriously worrying” the church in India. The meeting was held to discuss prospects for immediate enactment of federal legislation to counter religious extremism with the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill. Extreme Hinduism elements are on the rise in India and filling in the vacuum created by Al Qaeda. They were in cahoots to begin with.

    August 25, 2012 at 5:31 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.