A terrible state of affairs for the minorities of Pakistan. One wonders what would be the reaction of Muslims worldwide, if Muslim immigrants would be treated in the same way in the West, say in Britain or America?
This year, Christians in Pakistan have suffered their worst persecutions for a decade. As a percentage of the population in the predominantly Muslim country, Christians number less than five percent. This year, seven Christians were burned alive in mob violence at Gojra in Punjab province. Four of these were women and one was a four-year-old child. In other parts, homes and churches have been destroyed and hundreds of Christians have been forced to flee their homes.
Pakistan's discriminatory blasphemy laws have continued to be used to oppress minorities. As soon as a police complaint (FIR or First Information Report) is made about blasphemy the accused is compulsorily remanded in custody until trial. One Christian individual who was detained in this manner died violently on September 15th, even though the police who incarcerated him attempted to pass off his death as a suicide. In almost all the cases of legislative oppression and mob violence against Christians, blasphemy has been invoked as justification.
Recently Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari was on an international diplomatic tour, in which he visited Rome for three days. On Wednesday September 30th, he met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and signed an agreement on intelligence-sharing and military cooperation. The persecution of Christians in Pakistan was briefly mentioned.
Zardari said: "We are confronting the problem of religious minorities in Pakistan. We support all religious minorities in our country. They have the same rights, whether it is their religious practices or political rights." Berlusconi confirmed this, noting that he "found president Zardari to be very attentive."
The following day (October 1st) Zardari visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo. The Vatican Press Office stated: "The cordial discussions provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects."
The Blasphemy Laws
The blasphemy laws as they are now employed derive from amendments made in the 1980s to Pakistan's Penal Code (PPC). This legislation derives from 1860, as a set of statutes introduced by the British Raj for the governance of West Pakistan, then a predominantly Urdu-speaking region of India. The controversial amendments were introduced by the Islamist military dictator General Zia ul-Haq. This individual deposed Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and imposed martial law.
In 1980, ul-Haq introduced a Majlis-e-Shura (a council) of unelected advisers – many from the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party – to replace parliament. Later, he enacted sham elections. Zia ul-Haq retained connections with religious extremists, such as Maulana Muhammad Abdullah Shaheed who was imam at the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad. Ul-Haq gave himself the role of President, with power above prime minister, and ruled Pakistan until his death in a plane crash on August 17, 1988. The main blasphemy amendments were introduced while Pakistan was under a military dictatorship, and not under a civil democracy.
Part XV of the PPC lists offenses involving religion. Originally, there were only four laws of this nature, numbered from 295 to 298, but these have been expanded to number 10. The laws generally invoked to oppress Christians (and also Hindus and the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect deemed by some to be heretical) are all the results of amendments. These are Sections 295-B, 295-C and less frequently Section 298-A.
Section 295-B which outlaws "Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur'an" originally arose as an amendment introduced in 1927 and revised in 1982. This states: "Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life."
Section 295-C prohibits "Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet" and was introduced with the approval of General Zia ul-Haq and the Islamist Jammat-e-Islami party in 1982 and revised in 1986. This statute reads: "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 Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."
The death penalty option to Section 295-C was added in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, III of 1986, S. 2
Section 298-A deals with "Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of holy personages". This amendment was introduced in 1980, and states: "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 any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait), of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), or any of the righteous Caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”
Other sections of the PPC - 298-B and 298-C specifically target the Ahmadiyya. The first of these, introduced in 1980 prevents the Ahmadiyya from using devotional names to anyone other than Prophet Mohammed and his companions, and from calling any place of worship associated with anyone other than Mohammed as a "masjid" (mosque).
Section 298-C was also introduced in 1980, with a further amendment made in 1984. This forbids any Ahmadiyya from calling him- or herself a "Muslim" and forbids any proselytizing of their religion. Sections 298-B and C both carry penalties of up to three years' imprisonment and/or a fine.
Events Leading Up to the Gojra Violence
The violence in Gojra, in which Christians were burned to death, stemmed from a dispute that involved accusations of blasphemy. On Tuesday June 30th, a month before the atrocities, more than 110 Christian families were forced to flee their homes in the village of Bahminwala (Bahmina Wala) in Kasur district in Punjab province. The Christians were forced to hide in the fields around the village. They were driven out because Muslim mobs, encouraged by the local mosque, accused them all of blasphemy after one of their number had been listed in an FIR report.
The rampaging began after an incident that had occurred on the previous day. An argument broke out between a Christian farm laborer, 38-year old Sardar Masih (Arif Mashi), who was driving a tractor, and a Muslim riding a bicycle who came by and demanded that he should be allowed to pass. When this did not happen, the Muslim (Muhammad Riaz) apparently accused the Christian of being lower caste and a fight broke out.
According to Pakistan Christian Post, a mosque imam called Qari Lateef (Qari Latif) was consulted, and charges were filed against Sardar Masih at the local police station. These charges did not – it seems – include blasphemy, but the imam used his mosque loudspeaker system to make such accusations. In the ensuing unrest, electricity meters on Christian houses were smashed, Christian villagers were beaten, and houses were looted and burned.
The Daily Times newspaper sent journalists to the region. They met Shaan Ali and his brother Imran, who had both led the mob that attacked the Christians. Shaan Ali claimed, "The Christians had committed blasphemy." He could not specify who had committed this blasphemy. Ahmed Ali Dhillon of the provincial assembly confirmed that Qari Latif, imam at the village mosque, had instigated the violence against the Christians.
A few days later after the violence, while Christians made public protest at their treatment, Pakistan's minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti visited the village. Bhatti promised compensation to victims of the violence. Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammed Sharif at the Lahore High Court demanded that the local police chief for Kasur district appear to give their account of the events.
The events at Gojra followed – like so many similar cases of mob violence – the same trajectory as at Kasur, but the outcome was more horrific. Gojra is situated 99 miles west of Lahore in Punjab province. The spark that triggered the rampage began with an accusation that blasphemy had occurred. It was alleged that three Christians, Mukhtar Masih, Talib Masih and Talib's son Imran, had desecrated pages of the Koran at a wedding ceremony in Korrian, outside Gojra town.
A case was registered against the three men under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, but they were not immediately arrested. It is traditional for money to be presented at a wedding, and for those who are poor, "pretend money" is displayed. The Christians had allegedly cut up pieces of paper to look like money. There was no evidence from any sources that a Koran had actually been desecrated.
On Thursday July 30th, fearing reprisals for the alleged desecration, residents had fled from Korrian, leaving many houses empty. A mob gathered, and set fire to about 50 houses, also burning cattle. A kangaroo court was held in which Talib Masih was asked to apologize for desecrating Islam's holy book. He denied having desecrated pages from the Koran and refused to apologize. Two churches were also set ablaze. The mob blocked the main road to the village, to prevent fire engines from putting out the fires.
Imran Masih was officially charged under Section 295-B of the Penal Code. Pages of the Koran were allegedly found among garbage outside the scene of the wedding on July 26th.
A second incident followed, on Saturday August 1st, which filled international newswires for the scale of its ferocity. The police did nothing as a mob of fanatical Muslims entered the town of Gojra and started to shoot. They threw Molotov cocktails at houses, burning down forty domiciles. The assailants were said to be from Lashkar-e-Jhvangi or its associated group Sipah-e-Saba. These groups have been involved in previous instances of sectarian violence against any minority that is not Sunni Muslim, including attacks upon Shia civilians.
Six of the individuals who died came from one family, that of . A week after the event, Almass Hameed spoke from his hospital bed: "I think there were thousands. My elderly father went out to see what was happening and they shot and killed him. We were all shocked and crying. Before we knew it, they were breaking into the house."
Mr. Hameed described how he and nine members of his extended family hid in an upstairs bedroom, and heard members of the mob breaking in, smashing items and dividing valuables between them. Some intruders beat on the bedroom door where Almass and others were hiding. The intruders threatened to burn them alive, and soon he could smell smoke as flames spread. He recalled: "We just couldn't breathe. I grabbed my eldest son and managed to get out of the room through the flames, my brother came out with one of my daughters, but the rest were stuck and we had no way of rescuing them."
Those who remained in the bedroom were Almass' four-year old son Mousa, his 11-year-old daughter, his wife, her sister and her mother. Unable to escape, they were burned to death.
A Muslim youth blamed the event upon the Christians. He said: "We Muslims are the victims. We gathered to protest about what they did to the Koran in Korrian and just wanted to walk through their area, but they threw stones at us and fired shots. Of course it is bad that Christians died. But they provoked the Muslims here. I don't understand why everyone is on their side."
In the aftermath of the atrocity at Gojra, missionary schools were closed on Monday August 3rd.
A total of 800 individuals were charged with murder, including the local chief of police and the District Coordination Officer. Only 17 of these were actually named and placed in custody, with the remainder listed as "unknown" individuals. The charges had been brought by a local bishop. Shahbaz Sharif announced that 500,000 Rupees ($6,002) would be awarded for each family member that had died in the August 1st rioting.
The events in Gojra were to precipitate further attacks in a wave of "blasphemy hysteria". At Mudrike in Lahore, immediately after the Gojra arson deaths, a Muslim factory owner was falsely accused of blasphemy. The incident took place on Tuesday August 4th. It involved Mian Najib, the owner of East Leather, a leather-processing factory at Khatiala Virkan near Muridke. Najib removed an out-of-date Islamic calendar from the wall of the factory and, it is alleged, burned it. Calendars of this nature often have verses or quotations from the Koran upon them, and as such, any destruction of these quotations is seen as destruction of the Koran.
A worker at the factory called Moulvi Shabber claimed to have seen this act, and incited revenge for this act. A crowd of hundreds attacked the East Leather factory. In the ensuing violence, a security guard was killed, along with a security guard. Several others were injured.
On Wednesday, August 5th at Sanghur in Sindh province, a 60-year-old Muslim woman was accused of blasphemy, and her home became surrounded by a mob, led by a local shopkeeper who accused her of blasphemy. The shop owner had said that Akhtari Begum had thrown around some pages of the Koran inside his store. She, for her part, claimed that she had thrown the book in which her credit entries had been kept by the shopkeeper, onto the ground. Police took the woman into custody, apparently sparing her life.
The fact that Muslims too can become innocent victims of mob violence may perhaps be the key to having the Blasphemy Laws revoked. Traditionally, extremist Islamic groups, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which had a part in writing the laws, have campaigned successfully for blasphemy laws to remain. In March 2008, for example, the Jamaat-e-Islami party (which seeks Sharia law and wants apostates from Islam to be executed under law) condemned political parties for ignoring its rallies in favor of enforcing the Blasphemy statutes.
The mention of agitation by the groups Lashkar-i-Zhvangi and Sipah-i-Sahaba in some of the recent attacks against the Christian minority suggests that the extremes of violence have been deliberately manipulated.
While the victims of the Gojra violence were buried, police took action against suspects and arrested 65 people, including Qari Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a leading figure in Sipah-i-Sahaba. The residence of Abid Farooqi, another member of the banned terror group, was raided, but Farooqi had fled. His father and two brothers were apprehended and taken into custody.
On November 12, 2005, a similar incident had taken place in Sangla Hill in Punjab province, where a false allegation of blasphemy had been made. Yousaf Masseh was accused of desecrating pages from the Koran, though it was claimed that he had been accused by two men who owed him money from gambling debts, and did not wish to pay. Masseh had been imprisoned, while a mob of about 1,500 Muslims, encouraged by loudspeaker announcements from a mosque, descended upon the Christian homes in Sangla HIll. Three churches, including a Catholic and a Protestant house of worship, a school, a youth hostel, a nunnery and two homes belonging to Protestant priests were destroyed.
Shortly after the orgy of destruction, Christian community leaders in Sangla Hill had been threatened over the phone by a man who identified himself as a member of Lashkar-i-Jhvangi. He warned them to accept his "deal" within two days or to "get ready to die."
Lashkar-i-Jhvangi was the group believed responsible for the kidnap and decapitation of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl. An offshoot of Sipah-i-Sahaba, Lashkar-i-Jhvangi came into existence in 1996. It was designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization on January 30, 2003. Both Lashkar-i-Jhvangi and Sipah-i-Sahaba had been banned by President Musharraf in Pakistan on August 14, 2001. Sipah-i-Sahaba had been formed in Punjab province in the 1980s. Both groups have a Deobandi philosophy (the ideology which governs the actions of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan) aimed for a Sunni state in Pakistan under sharia law.
In April 2009, Christians came under threat from Taliban-supporting militants in a community near Sarjani Town in a suburb of Karachi, in Sindh province. Buildings, including two houses and about six shops, were set on fire. Roadside traders' stalls and carts were destroyed by fire. Gunfire broke out between groups and four people were injured. The violence broke out after graffiti on the walls of a church had been found on Wednesday April 22nd. The graffiti comprised of pro-Taliban slogans.
Christians responded by burning tires and throwing stones at passing vehicles. The two groups – Pakhtoons (Pashtun migrants from the Afghan borderlands) and Christians – faced each other down, and then gunfire broke out. Four people were injured, including an 11-year-old boy. One of the individuals who had been shot, a man called Irfan Masih, died later in hospital.
The graffiti which was chalked onto the wall of the Roman Catholic church in Sarjani town included: Taliban are coming," "Long live Taliban" and "Be prepared to pay Jizya or embrace Islam."
Jizya is a tax, listed in the Koran and the Hadiths, which non-Muslims were traditionally obliged to pay to Muslim overlords when a community was fully controlled by Islam and governed by the precepts of Sharia. In the Koran, Sura 9, verse 29, it is written (Yusufali's translation): "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
During the incident in the Christian settlement (called Khuda ki Basti) near Sarjani Town, police were present but had done nothing to stop the incident. When the shooting began, only Christians were injured.
On August 28th in the city of Quetta in Baluchistan, southwestern Pakistan, six Christians were shot dead and seven more were injured. For months before the atrocity, Christians in the region had been receiving letters from Islamic fundamentalists which ordered them to convert to Islam or to die.
The most recent incident of prejudice against the Christian community involved the Blasphemy Laws. A 25-year-old Christian man from Sialkot in northeastern Punjab province, close to the Indian border, was arrested on Friday September 11th, accused of desecrating the Koran. A mob of about 100 people, most of them young men, made the accusations against Fanish Masih, who sometimes went under the name of Robert. The mob went on the rampage through Sambrial district and attacked a Roman Catholic church, setting it alight.
The alleged incident that provoked the violence was a claim that a Christian had snatched a Koran from a 10-year-old girl and had then desecrated it. No authentication of the incident has appeared from other sources, and it seems that – like almost all alleged cases of Koran desecration – it could be a baseless myth.
On Tuesday September 15th, police announced that Fanish Masih had committed suicide in his cell. The young man had been kept in a separate cell, and police maintained that he had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with a narrow cord. This version was immediately contested. Asma Jahangir, the head of HRCP, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, claimed that "This is death in custody and the police authorities are responsible."
Kamran Michael, the Punjabi provincial Minister for Minority Affairs said: "I have seen the body and there were torture marks on it." It is obvious that there is a deep gash on Robert's forehead, which appears to have been caused by impact from a sharp-edged object. The body was taken away by local Christians who demanded a private autopsy.
At the funeral of Fanish Masih on Wednesday September 16th, there was discontent. The body could not be buried in Fanish's native village of Jaithikey-Sambrial for fear of inflaming tensions again. Instead, a memorial service was held in the grounds of a Christian school in the industrial city of Sialkot. There was ill feeling on the night before the funeral, and some Christians blocked roads, threw stones at vehicles and trashed 13 shops. On the day that Fanish was interred, there were clashes with police, and nine Christians were arrested.
The day of the funeral, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Minorities demanded an official inquiry into the circumstances of Robert Fanish Masih's death in police custody.
While Pakistani newspaper editorials carried sincere expressions of regret about the treatment of Christian and other minorities in Pakistan, a bizarre turn of events took place in Toba Tek Singh, the district that included Gojra. On September 26th, it was announced that an individual called Ghulam Murtaza had filed a case against 129 Christians from Gojra.
Murtaza claimed that he had been among 12 Muslims who had been injured on August 1st, the day that seven Christians had been injured in Gojra. In this counterclaim, it was stated that one of the Muslims who was injured on the day of the rioting, Muhammad Asif, later died from injuries. The legal charges invoked the Anti-Terror Act as well as Sections from the Penal Code, including Section 295-C (insulting Prophet Mohammed), 280 (theft from a house), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house etc.), 324 (Qatl-i-amd or attempting to cause death of another), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (being part of an unlawful assembly and guilty of committing a crime) and Section 342 (wrongful confinement).
The individuals listed in Murtaza's charge sheet included John Samuel, the Bishop of Gojra, and also Samuel's two sons, and a local administrator.
Six days before Ghulam Murtaza brought his extraordinary set of charges against members of Gojra's Christian community, 18 people who were held in custody for the violence of August 1st were released. A joint committee of Muslims and Christians, set up to enact reconciliation, had decided to declare the 18 individuals innocent. A similar committee had brought the same results – and consequence lack of punishment for offenders – in the aftermath of the Sangla Hill riots of 2005.
The Death of a Dream
When Pakistan broke free from British rule, it was led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is hard to imagine that originally, the state of Pakistan was officially secular. Nowadays, Section 2 of the constitution maintains that "Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan." Jinnah was only in power for 13 months before he died. With him died the dream of a secular nation.
The current Constitution maintains in Section 20 A that, "subject to law, public order and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess and propagate his religion". Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code deliberately suppresses this basic right in relation to the Ahmadiyya. These believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded their faith on March 23, 1889, is a prophet. In every other way they follow the tenets of the Koran, though they are banned by Saudi Arabia from performing one of the five pillars of Islam, making the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
One of the few heartening things to have emerged as a consequence of the recent attacks against Christians is a willingness on the part of respected Muslim commentators within Pakistan to voice their shock and shame at the events that have been allowed to take place on account of the Blasphemy Laws. For the first time in three decades, there appears to be a determination on the part of Pakistan's elite to discuss the removal of the contentious and divisive laws.
Several writers have gone back to the historic speech made by Muhammad Ali Jinnah on August 11, 1947, the day of Pakistan's Independence. As president of the new republic, Jinnah addressed the Constituent Assembly.
He included the following words: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State."
He added: "Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."
The evidence is now incontrovertible: Pakistan is now a nation where Hindus, Christians and the "heretical" Ahmadiyya are minorities who have none of the freedoms that were described by Jinnah in his first speech as elected president. Jinnah was speaking of the need to frame a Constitution and what it should encompass. He railed against the corruption that had been endemic at the time of Independence. Acknowledging that Pakistan would have non-Muslims in its population, he urged that the state should work for the well being of everyone. He said: "If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his color, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
Pakistan has long abandoned the principles that brought it into being. The rule of Zia ul-Haq was the third military dictatorship since independence. Since 1947, only one government, the one that preceded this current one, has completed a full term of office, and that was blighted by emergency powers introduced by Musharraf at the end. The Blasphemy Laws, approved by Zia ul-Haq with the support of Islamic fundamentalists, have been a source of strife, a means by which personal scores can be settled, a pretext for communal violence. At a speech delivered after the funeral of Fanish Masih, Father Emanuel Yousaf Mani called on the current government to review the Blasphemy statutes. He told a press conference that since their introduction, 947 people, all of them non-Muslims, had been killed.
In Part Two, I will describe how previous attempts to amend the Blasphemy Laws have foundered in the face of fundamentalist opposition, and show how they have been used to settle scores and to turn minority groups into convenient scapegoats.
Methodology of Oppression
Christians are not the only group to have been affected by Pakistan's blasphemy laws. These statutes have been used against Hindus, Muslims, and members of the Ahmadiyya (or Ahmadi, Qadiani) sect, who consider themselves "Islamic" yet are shunned as heretics. The laws are also used to "punish" people as a result of feuds, arguments over land, and other reasons. In these cases, innocent Muslims are often the victims of the blasphemy statutes. But there are other ways of oppressing minorities in Pakistan.
Forcibly converting people is one means of oppression that has been used against minority groups. On May 26, 2006, a conference was held in a Lahore hotel, sponsored by the Minority Rights Commission of Pakistan (MRC). It was claimed at this meeting that although only 100 cases of forced conversions were reported in the Pakistan media, the true annual figure ranged between 500 and 600 a year.
I.A. Rehman, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told the conference: "In Pakistan we do not have any law against forced conversion and converting from Islam to any other religion means death. To change this state of affairs, we must consider the issue as a struggle for democracy and invite Muslims as well to these meetings, so they can help us to better understand all points of view of the argument."
The practice of forcing Hindu girls to convert has been documented in Pakistan. In November, 2005, there had been 19 such cases reported in Karachi, the main city in Sindh province. Hindus are generally in low numbers in Pakistan, but in Sindh, there are two districts (Jacobad and Larkana) where (according to the 1998 census) they comprise about 40 percent of the local population. Hindu girls were abducted, converted to Islam and hastily married to young Muslims before their families could trace them.
The most offensive method of forcible conversion is gang-rape. In the fall of 2005, a young Christian girl was allegedly gang-raped to force her to convert to Islam. The 12-year-old girl was abducted from her home and forced to have sex with numerous men. The case was presented by the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). One former influential member of APMA, Shahbaz Batti, is now the Minorities Minister in the current government.
Christian news sites have several details of such cases of forcible conversions through rape that have taken place in Pakistan. A report by the Asian Human Rights Commission from March 2007 describes how a 15-year-old Shia Muslim girl was gang-raped in Layyah in Punjab province, as a means to force her to convert to Sunni Islam.
Ahmadis are said to comprise less than one percent of Pakistan's population. They are treated by the majority population and by the establishment in a manner that should invoke the outrage of "rights groups" like CAIR, but strangely, few groups are prepared to defend the rights of the Ahmadis. The group has as its slogan: "Love for All, Hatred for No One," yet the group has received vilification from conventional Muslims. In Pakistan in 2005, more than 1,300 reports containing hate material against Ahmadis were published in the Urdu press. The group has also been subjected to violent attacks in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The persecutions of the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan are similar to those endured by Christians. Occasionally villages are attacked, or individuals are accused of blasphemy, often in an attempt to invoke sectarian violence against the community of the "blasphemer." Such an instance happened on June 24, 2006, when a village was attacked after allegations were made that two Ahmadi youths had burned a copy of the Koran. Seven Ahmadis had been arrested under Section 295-B of the Penal Code (desecration of Koran), but a mob nonetheless rampaged through the village of Jhando Shai in Punjab province. Thirteen Ahmadi families lived in the village. Twelve families were forced to flee, while their homes (and some shops) were burned down. The Ahmadi families who fled could not return to register complaints against those who had vandalized their abodes – the police had banned them from coming back.
Between 1986 and 1999, a total of 189 Ahmadis were imprisoned for contravening Section 295-C of the Penal Code. This outlaws blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, and is the most serious of the religious statutes, potentially meriting the death penalty.
In 2002, Ahmadi political candidates in the general election were forced to sign a pledge confirming that Mohammed was the final prophet (khatm-e-nabbuwat), essentially forcing them to deny the prophethood of their founder Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadis do, however, state that Muhammad was the last law-giving prophet.
The discriminatory oath seemed designed to oust Ahmadis from the political process. Not only are Ahmadi candidates placed in the uncomfortable position of either denying the tenets of their faith or sacrificing their rights to stand for election, the same oath must be signed by voters. As a result, Ahmadis are denied the right to partake in the political process.
The Ahmadiyya were officially declared to be non-Muslims on September 21, 1974. This declaration was made by the National Assembly, and became the second amendment to the constitution. The government then was under the leadership of Fazal Elahi Chaudry, of the PPP party.
The official demonization of the Ahmadis obviously contradicts Jinnah's original vision of Pakistan as a nation where people of all faiths should be equal. The machinations of anti-democratic fanatics and dictators have betrayed not only Jinnah, but the first government after independence. The first foreign minister of Pakistan was Sir Zafrullah Khan (1893 - 1985), who was an Ahmadi. A figure of international politics, and champion of the Third World, Zafrullah Khan's religion seems to be the reason why he is not remembered in Pakistan.
Political discrimination continues. The leaders of Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam party (JUI) follow strict Deobandi beliefs. Sami ul-Haq, who leads the "S" wing of the party, heads the Haqqania madrassa which educated most of Afghanistan's Taliban, including Mullah Omar (even though the latter did not finish his course). The "F" wing of JUI is led by Fazlur Rehman. Both have argued for Sharia law to replace Pakistan's democracy. On September 29, 2009, Senator Dr. Khalid Mehmood Soomro of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) publicly condemned the exiled leader of the MQM party for supporting the Ahmadi. Soomro also condemned the governor of Punjab for supporting the Ahmadis, and vowed that JUI activists would ensure people knew about khatm-e-nabbuwat.
In December 2004, the Pakistani authorities removed the necessity of a column in a person's passport that declared one's religion. Briefly, it seemed that Ahmadis would be able to join the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. However, in March 2005 government ministers restored the religious identification section on all Pakistani passports. They had apparently been pressured by fundamentalist groups.
Scattered as they are across Pakistan, the cohesion of Ahmadis as a group is maintained through publications. Now, the Internet is used to keep Ahmadis aware of what is happening to their communities both nationally and globally. On September 9, 2006, the offices of an Ahmadi newspaper in Rabwah, Punjab, were raided by police. The Blasphemy laws (298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code), introduced in 1980 by dictator Zia ul-Haq to deny Ahmadis the right to present themselves as "Muslims," were invoked to justify the raid. Additionally, the newspaper was said to have published "hate literature." Arrests were made, some staff escaped. The Daily Alfazl newspaper, which was founded in 1911, was forced to stop printing. It continues, and has an online edition.
The Ahmadis face discrimination even after death. When an Ahmadi is buried in a Muslim graveyard, there are often protests, leading to exhumations and reburials, as happened to a 60-year old-woman in June 2007 and a 17-year-old Ahmadi girl in March 2006. This girl, Nadia Hanif, was reburied because local clerics, supported by extremists, campaigned against her body lying amongst "true" Muslims. A family spokesman said: "How can peace and harmony be built in society?" Between 1988 and 2006, there were a total of 28 Ahmadi exhumations from Muslim cemeteries. Attempts by Ahmadis to expand or alter their own cemeteries are limited by the actions of fanatical Muslims.
In April 2007, when Ahmadis wished to place a fence around a graveyard at Wagah Town near Lahore, a radical cleric declared this unacceptable. The cleric, Dr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi, promised retaliations if the government allowed it. He said that as the cemetery was near the Indian border, having it enclosed appeared to suggest they wanted a headquarters. Naeemi added: "The government should remember that according to our belief, apostates should be killed within three days. It is only the difference of opinion on this decree within Muslims that has stopped us from doing so."
Ahmadis – like Christians – are killed for the sake of their faith. Between 1984 and 2004, at least 79 Ahmadis were killed. On March 1, 2007 a senior police officer shot dead Muhammad Ashraf, an Ahmadi man who was eating his breakfast in a hotel in a village near Lahore, Punjab province. Before shooting him, the policeman shouted: "You are an infidel, and are preaching an infidel creed in the area."
Early on Friday October 7th, two gunmen burst into an Ahmadi mosque in Mong, Mandi Bahuddin town, 60 miles south of Islamabad, the capital. The assailants fired Kalashnikovs at Ahmadis who were offering morning prayers. Eight people were killed and 14 more were injured. The gunmen fled on a motorcycle of a third man, who waited outside. A witness said: "The floor of the one-room place of worship was littered with blood."
On Monday January 19, 2009 a 55-year-old Ahmadi shopkeeper was shot dead in Kotri district, Sindh province. Saeed Ahmed had been returning home from work when he was shot in front of his house. The only reason for his killing, claimed an Ahmadi spokesman, was his faith. The spokesman blamed a media fatwa for allowing such killings to happen (see below).
Killings are horrific but when children are criminalized under the law on account of their faith, there can be no moral justification. In February 2007, it was revealed that police in Khushab district in Punjab province had registered a case against five young Ahmadis. Their "crime" had been to subscribe to an Ahmadi children's magazine called Tasheezul Azhan. The police officer who made the case claimed the magazine was "banned" and contained "hate material," even though it had been printed since 1906. Two of the accused were preteens. One was an 11-year-old girl, Nusrat Jahan, and one was an 8-year-old boy called Umair Ahmed.
In Layyah district in Punjab province, another incident involved children being criminalized. Four Ahmadi boys from the district were arrested on January 28th this year. The boys, named Muhammad Irfan, Tahir Imran, Tahir Mahmood and Naseeb Ahmad, were said in the FIR (First Information Report) to have written "blasphemous material" in the latrines of the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque in Kot Sultan. They were all charged under Section 295-C of the Blasphemy Laws. This statute, which outlaws the use of "derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet", is the most serious, as it can lead to the death penalty.
Following a well-established pattern, the accusations of blasphemy were followed by mob violence. On January 29, 2009, a day after the arrests, a mob tried to burn Ahmadi houses in Layyah district. The protagonists of the violence were said to be banned Islamist extremist groups.
The case is serious. It is the first time since 1986, when Section 295-C of the PPC was introduced, that it has been used against children. The "banned groups" who led the agitation against the Layyah Ahmadiyya community, were the Sipah-i-Sahaba. Apparently a retired schoolteacher called Noor Elahi Kulachi, who is a member of the Sipah-i-Sahaba, led the campaign to have the children arrested. Kulachi approached a relative of a member of the National Assembly, who then convened a meeting. This had the boys branded as "guilty."
On Friday January 30 a 45-year old man called Mubaser Ahmed was also arrested. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement. This asserted that the boys had not been part of the mosque where the graffiti was found, nor were they from the area.
The AHRC statement also read: "After contacting Dr Muhammad Azam, the district police officer (DPO) of Layyah, family members were told that the police were under pressure from fundamentalists to act against the children. If he did not arrest them, Azam said, the group had threatened to close down the whole city and attack the houses of Ahmedi sect members. Worried about civilian deaths, the officer arrested the children."
On February 7, 2009, it was revealed that the four accused children had been sent to Dera Ghazi Khan Central Jail. A local community leader sent them books in jail, so they could review for their examinations. Members of the banned Islamist groups that were said to be responsible for attacking Ahmadiyya homes in Layyah were not charged or arrested.
I contacted a British Ahmadiyya mosque and was told that the four Ahmadi boys have since been bailed. Even though they are no longer in prison, they are still awaiting their trial for blasphemy.
In a country that receives so much money from Western nations, particularly from the United States, it is shocking that some officials and politicians flout the rule of law and show no respect for the human rights of others. On September 7, 2008, a former government minister repeatedly declared that as Ahmadis did not believe Mohammed to be the last prophet, it was necessary under Islamic teachings to kill them. He also persuaded his two guests to agree with the statement. Within 48 hours, two Ahmadis had been murdered.
Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain had formerly been the religious affairs minister for Pakistan, and used to be with the MQM party. On July 4, 2007, he was forced to resign from his post as religious affairs minister, on the orders of the MQM party. The party was unhappy with Liaquat Hussain's comments that Salman Rushdie should be killed for blasphemy.
Liaquat Hussein made his comments on the popular religious show that he had fronted as anchorman, called "Aalim Online," This show is on Geo TV. Shortly after his calls for Ahmadis to be killed, the MQM party also dropped Liaquat Hussein from their main committee.
Eighteen hours after Liaquat Hussein called for Ahmadis to be killed as a "religious duty" (Wajib ul Qatal), six people walked into a clinic in Mirpur Khas, Sindh province. Here, Dr. Abdul Manan Siddiqui had a medical practice. They called for the doctor, an Ahmadi, to come to assist a patient. When the doctor came down to see them, he was shot eleven times and died. A woman and a guard were injured by gunfire. On September 9, 2008, a 75-year-old man was killed in Nawab Shah, Sindh province. Mr. Yousaf was a rice trader and head of his local Ahmadi group. He was shot at by men on motorbikes, hit three times, and died in an ambulance before it reached hospital.
On May 29, 2009 the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat issued a press release. This stated that a 54-year-old Ahmadi man from Faisalabad in Pakistan had been killed in what appeared to be a targeted assassination. Mian Liaq Ahmad was driving home when he found a car blocking access to the road where he lived. Men jumped from a car and shot Mr Ahmad in the head. The press release stated: "He becomes the 5th Ahmadi to be martyred in 2009 and the 101st to be killed in Pakistan since anti-Ahmadiyya laws were introduced by the Government of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1984."
In Part One I mentioned the case of Fanish "Robert" Masih, who was apparently murdered in his jail cell. His extra-judicial killing is not without precedent. On May 28, 2004 a Christian called Samuel Masih died from injuries. Samuel had been a suspect in a blasphemy case, and while incarcerated, he had developed tuberculosis. On May 22, 2004, he had been escorted to hospital by police guards. One of these police officers, Faryad Ali, hit Samuel on the head with a brick-cutter. Apparently, the police constable claimed that he wanted to gain a place in heaven by killing Samuel.
Christians are most frequently murdered in connection with blasphemy cases, but occasionally acts of naked sectarian violence are used against them. On Christmas Day 2002, three girls were killed in a grenade attack at a church. The incident happened in Chianwala, north of Lahore in Punjab province. The assailants who threw the grenade wore burkas. Two girls died instantly, and another died later. The victims were aged 6, 10 and 15.
The grenade attack happened after a local Muslim cleric told his congregation: "It is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians. You should attack Christians and not even have food until you have seen their dead bodies." The cleric, Nazir Yaqub, was a supporter of banned group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is linked with al Qaeda.
On Monday August 5, 2002, six people were killed at the Murree Christian School near Islamabad. On August 9, 2002 grenades were thrown into a Christian hospital in Taxila, 25 miles from Islamabad. Three nurses died.
The worst sectarian attack against Christians happened on October 28, 2001 when 18 people died after gunmen attacked a church service in St. Dominic's church in Bahawalpur in Punjab province. In July 2002, four people were arrested in connection with the incident. Two of these belonged to the banned group Lashkar-i-Jhvangi.
Challenging the Blasphemy Laws
In May 2007 Christians in Charsadda in North-West Frontier Province, close to the Afghan border, were threatened by Islamists. A letter telling them to convert or die was circulated in the town. The threats came after a legal attempt to change the blasphemy laws had failed.
Attempting to challenge the blasphemy laws has always invoked the ire of Islamic fanatics. These are highly organized. Lashkar-Jhvangi comprises former fighters who were in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviets. Other groups, such as Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat, have been instrumental in oppressing the "heretical" Ahmadiyya, and also challenging any proposed changes to the blasphemy legislation. The Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat reappeared in the news in May last year demanding that Pakistan cut ties with the Netherlands and Denmark.
The aggression of this group was expressed by its leader, Hanif Tayyab, who said: "We put the government on one-month notice to expel these envoys and recall our ambassadors from the two countries, otherwise we will ask our followers to march on Islamabad."
Lashkar-i-Jhvangi and Sipah-i-Sahaba appear to have been instrumental in many notorious instances of communal violence against Pakistani Christian communities (as well as their documented attacks upon Ahmadi and Shia Muslim communities). Often they invoke "blasphemy" accusations against individuals to better mobilize groups to violence against whole communities. This appeared to have happened at Sangla Hill in Punjab province in 2005, and also at Gojra in August this year.
The first major case of such communal violence happened against the Christian village of Shanti Nagar near Karachi, Sindh province. On February 6, 1997, thousands of Islamic protesters descended on the village with placards stating: "Kill the Christians because they are Blasphemers towards the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet." In the village of Shanti Nagar 785 houses were destroyed, four churches were burned, and 2,500 people forced to flee. Two days before, Muslims had run riot in the town of Khanegal. In all, 13 churches were destroyed and 2,000 Bibles were destroyed. The mob violence, in which incendiary devices were used, had stemmed from the discovery of a ripped Koran, which had Christians' names written on the pages.
The problems with attempting to challenge the blasphemy laws are plain: Anyone who attempts to alter the laws is seen as an "enemy of Islam," and the Islamist groups can mobilize support with little resistance from the authorities.
Lawyers who have acted to defend those accused of blasphemy have been threatened. Aslam Pervaiz is one individual who had received death threats and had been assaulted for defending those accused of blasphemy. Sheikh Anis A Saadi is the Chairman of a free advocacy service and said in November 2008 that he has been subject to social stigma from defending alleged "blasphemers." His office had been set on fire, he had been assaulted, and his family had received written threats from a "jihadi" group.
The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that a lawyer has been mentioned in a printed Urdu advertisement, placed in several newspapers. The lawyer in question is called Rao Zafar Iqbal, and he is head of the National Council for Human Rights. He received threatening letters in July 2009. These demanded that he stop defending religious minorities. They came from Jan Nisaran-e-Nabuwat and Aqeeda-e-Tahafuz-e-Kathme Nabuwat. When he went to Faisalabad police to request protection, they refused. He was then shot at.
On August 4, 2009, an advertisement appeared in the Daily Pavel newspaper. It is reproduced above. This advertisement declared that Rao Zafar Iqbal is deserving of death, because he defended a man called Mohammed Ayube who claims to be Prophet Mohammed. Even though Ayube appears to be mentally ill, fatwas appeared against him in the Daily Pavel and Daily Express newspapers. The advertisement mentioning Rao Zafar Iqbal stated that murdering the lawyer would be doing a service to Islam.
The police appear to have taken no action against the newspapers, and in so many cases of alleged "blasphemy," as well as when sectarian riots occur, the police are said to have stood back and done nothing.
When lawyers have been successful, and their clients are freed, the acquitted individuals have to flee for their lives. Several have been killed after gaining freedom. For example, Manzur Masih, Rahmat Masih and Salamat Masih had been arrested in May 1993, accused of blasphemy, under Section 295-C of the PPC.
The Christians were said to have passed pieces of paper into a mosque in Punjab province. The slips of paper allegedly bore insulting comments about Mohammed. The three had been accused by a cleric, Maulvi Fazl-e-Haq, who was a leader of the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which at that time was not banned. Fazl-e-Haq claimed the three had also scribbled graffiti on the mosque wall.
At Lahore High Court, the three were acquitted, and set free, accompanied by another young man who had been falsely accused. Standing on the steps of the courthouse, the four were shot at by gunmen. Manzur Masih was killed. The judge who had acquitted him would also later be killed by extremists for freeing the Christians.
Bishop John Joseph, the first ethnic Pakistani to become Bishop of Faisalabad, attended the funeral of Manzur Masih, and even kissed the feet of the dead man. He vowed that he would be the next person to die under the blasphemy laws. Later, in his frustration, Bishop Joseph would give his own life. But even his own sacrifice brought no change to the laws.
In Part Three, I will discuss the events of Bishop Joseph's mission to stop the persecution of Christians and to repeal the blasphemy statutes. I will also present a timeline of some of the most interesting Pakistani legal cases of blasphemy.
Bishop John Joseph
Manzur Masih, a 37-year-old Christian laborer, was shot outside the Lahore courthouse on April 5, 1994. Acquitted of blasphemy, gunmen connected to the fanatical Sunni terror group Sipah-i-Sahaba had issued their own version of "summary justice".
A year previously, Masih had been put on trial with two others from his village, Rehmat Masih and 12-year-old Salamat Masih. Initially accused by a cleric allied to Sipah-i-Sahaba, they were charged, found guilty and sentenced to death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. They were accused of writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed. Since the early 1990s (states the National Commission for Justice and Peace) the death penalty has been a mandatory sentence for those found guilty of breaching Section 295-C. The flaw in the charge against the three villagers was that they were all illiterate and could not have written the insulting slogans for which they were convicted. All three were shot outside the court, with Manzur dying on the spot. Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih received serious injuries.
Justice Arif Iqbal Husain Bhatti, one of the two Lahore High Court judges who set the Christians free, was not to escape the "justice" of fanatics. He would receive death threats from fanatics. Finally, in October 1997, the extremists' threats were fulfilled and the judge was shot near the Lahore courthouse where he worked. A laborer was arrested for the judge's murder in 1998.
The suspect, Ahmad Sher, allegedly told interrogators that: "....I went to his Turner Road office at around 9 am but he had not arrived. I went out and returned after about 30 minutes but he was still not present. When I went into the office for the third time, the office boy went in to inform him and entered the room from the other door. He was engrossed in some document when I fired three shots targeting the head and face. After firing the shots I rushed out."
Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph kissed the feet of Manzur Masih's corpse at his funeral, and is said to have declared: "Manzur, the next blood to be shed for these laws will be mine." The bishop would lead protests of Christians against the murder of Manzur Masih.
John Joseph, a native of Khushpur, was born on November 15, 1932. He was ordained as a priest on January 18, 1960, and consecrated as a bishop in January 1981. He served as an auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Faisalabad for four years before becoming ordained as the Bishop of Faisalabad on January 9, 1984.
Bishop Joseph's pastoral work brought him into contact with Christians with little education and no political power, who were being exploited by Islamic fundamentalists. He would become deeply involved in the plight of Christians who were accused by fanatics of "blasphemy" against Islam.
He would become intimately linked with the National Commission for Justice and Peace, NCJP, a group formed in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishop's Conference. In 1987, NCJP provided advocacy for bonded labor in brick factories, leading to the abolition of bonded labor in 1992.
One of the campaigns against discrimination that Bishop John Joseph and the NCJP worked on was mounting an opposition to a decision by the government to have a section on identity cards listing a person's religion. With Catholic and Protestant bishops staging sit-down protests on streets, the government relented at Christmas 1992 and withdrew its plans for the legislation.
On March 20, 1998, the bishop convened a rally for Christian unity in Vienna, Austria. Accompanied by Catholics and Protestants, he spoke of the problems of minorities in Pakistan and condemned the blasphemy laws. He said of them that "we object to these laws because they are the main hindrance to Christian-Muslim relations. We shall fight till the dawn comes, (and) the forms (of this fight) may be diverse."
Though long, in an address dated April 30, 1998, John Joseph gave a succinct account of fundamentalism. Called "The Challenges of Religious Fundamentalism and Violence to Social Harmony," this is a segment:
"The first victims of the fundamentalist parties are the religious minorities. They direct their full wrath on these minorities and depict them as dangerous to society and country. For example, Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan. In Iran, after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Bahais were brutally persecuted and excluded from all government jobs. In Egypt, the Coptics are the victims. The second victims are women. They believe women are inferior to men, root of evil, weak and stupid, and without any understanding of worldly affairs. The third victims are those people who have secular, liberal, and enlightened outlook, especially the intellectuals and the human rights' activists."
"They are against the West and watch carefully their progress and activities. Whenever possible they will do acts of terrorism to get attention from the world media For them every one in the Western countries is an enemy of Islam so they support all sorts of violent or non-violent activities to fight against their enemies who are non-Muslims and westernized Muslims, as well."
"To popularize their policies they use the method of Tabligh, that is preaching. Their second method is violence. It is their belief that those who oppose them are the enemies of God. First they terrorize them to silence them; in the second stage they eliminate them which also serve as warnings to others."
"Those individuals who adopt secular ideas are regarded by them as Murtad/apostate and thus punishable by death. To legitimize it, the Fatwa (i.e. religious judgment) is issued in this regard which makes it obligatory on every Muslim to kill the said person. In Iran, during the Shah regime, a liberal advocate Khusrau was killed when the religious leaders sanctioned his murder. Similarly, Imam Khomeini issued the Fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie."
"In Pakistan very often fatwas are issued against Christians. This happened in the case of Salamat Masih, a teenager, Manzoor Masih and Rehmat Masih, farmers in Gujranwala, Gul Masih, a small business owner in Sargodha, and Nemat Ahmer, a school teacher in Faisalabad. Nemat Ahmer was killed and so was Manzoor Masih. Salamat Masih, Gul Masih and Rehmat Masih were given death sentence by the Sessions Courts but later freed by the High Court of Lahore. Very often Islamic laws, particularly Blasphemy Laws are used against others in particular against Christians to settle personal scores and prejudices. This creates a sense of fear among the Christians."
"Under the fundamentalist influence, publication of religious books increase and secular literature rapidly decreases. It also greatly affects the music, painting, sculpture, and dancing, and, also as a whole, the society loses its glamour, and violence and dullness reign supreme. This is what has happened for example in Pakistan."
"For South African Archbishop Tutu, 'the real issue at hand is taking Islamic fundamentalism as a challenge and the most effective way to counter it is by deepening people's faith.' (art. Islam is Africa, in World Mission, January, 1993, PP 28-29.)"
The Case of Ayub Masih
Less than a week after he made his address on the victimization of minorities, Bishop John Joseph would be dead. There were intimations in the words he reputedly spoke over the body of Manzur Masih that he considered martyrdom. In the address he made six days before he died, he had mentioned: "I shall count myself extremely fortunate, if in this mission of breaking the barriers, Our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of His people. As St. Paul wrote, "It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church" (Col. 1: 24)."
Aged 66, Bishop Joseph killed himself. He had traveled to a court in Sahiwal in Punjab province on May 6, 1998. The bishop had asked Father Yaqoob Farooq to accompany him. At around 9:30 pm, after asking Fr. Farooq to stay back, the bishop took out a pistol and shot himself in the neck. He died on the same spot where a member of his diocese had been shot at, on November 6, 1977. This individual was Ayub Masih. On April 27, 1998, two days before Bishop John Joseph made his address against victimization of minorities, Ayub Masih had been sentenced to death.
On October 14, 1996 Ayub Masih had been arrested, accused of breaching Section 295-C, (making "derogatory comments about Prophet Mohammed"). Unusually, the indictment claimed that Ayub had suggested someone read the "Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie. The authorities had taken an alleged suggestion to read a book to be the same as insulting a prophet, a bizarre precedent in law.
Ayub's personal account of his case includes the following:
"In truth, I never said anything against Islam or its Prophet. I worked as a brick layer in Karachi and I was attending a Bible College because I wanted to become a minister. In August 1996, I returned to my home village of Arifabad to visit my family. My family was facing trouble with a Muslim landlord who wanted to take all of the land away from the Christians in our village. My father and brothers resisted the landlord’s demand to give up the land rights to our property. At my family’s house, my brother and I were beaten by a mob of several dozen men. The mob then dragged my brother and me to the local police station."
"I was formally arrested, on 14th October 1996, following a complaint filed by Muhammed Akam, who alleged that he heard me saying, ‘If you want to know the truth about Islam, then read Salman Rushdie.’ The case was registered with the police without proper investigation and based merely on the statement by the complainant. Meanwhile, my whole family, along with the other 14 Christian families, fled our village under threats to their lives. Pakistani police did nothing to protect them or to stop the terror. I was imprisoned for the next 5 years and 10 months, most of that time, in Multan jail. After one year in prison, I was tried for blasphemy."
The original trial was held in Arifwala, but there was a fear that extremists would disrupt proceedings. Ayub was moved to Sahiwal, and there he was shot. The gunman was not arrested. Ayub stated, "Police refused to arrest the man."
The death of Bishop John Joseph seemed designed to highlight the injustice of the case of Ayub Masih, a case that was a pars pro toto for all the other injustices endured by Christian and other minorities in Pakistan. Inside Pakistan, Christians went on protests and the world's media may have taken more of an interest in the plight of Pakistan's minorities. On May 28, 1998, three weeks after Bishop Jon Joseph shot himself, Pakistan announced to the world that it had conducted its first successful tests of nuclear weapons. The international media was diverted away from the plight of oppressed minorities in Pakistan.
Ayub Masih endured abuse in prison. He was stabbed in prison in early 1999. Though he attack was witnessed by jail staff, the four Muslims who carried out the assault were never punished. The prison staff even refused to allow him a doctor. Ayub had an appeal in July 2001, but the courthouse was filled with Islamists who were shouting death threats. The appeal fell through. On October 8, 2001, a petition on Ayub's behalf was made to the United Nations, to its Commission on Human Rights' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention A second appeal was made to the Supreme Court i Pakistan. On August 16, 2002, the Supreme Court threw out the case. While fundamentalists offered a 100,000 rupee bounty on his head, Ayub Masih slipped out of the country and found sanctuary in the United States of America.
Why The Law Never Changes
Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) was prime minister at the time of Bishop John Joseph's death. Sharif's government defended the blasphemy laws. A spokesman from the foreign ministry declared that "complete freedom of speech" existed in Pakistan, but argued that "denigration of any religion is not permissible." The Religious and Minorities Minister in Nawaz's cabinet was Raja Zafarul Haq, who had previously defended the blasphemy laws. and had been active in persuading General Zia ul-Haq in his campaigns against the Ahmadis. Immediately after Bishop Joseph's death, Zafarul Haq claimed that minorities in Pakistan had full security "according to Islamic teachings. He asserted that the blasphemy laws had never been implemented in the country "without substantial evidence."
On Friday May 8, 1998, thousands of Christians in Faisalabad publicly mourned the bishop. When some allegedly began to throw stones at shops, the crowds were tear-gassed by police. Joseph's body lay in a coffin in Faisalabad Cathedral before burial. Nawaz Sharif commiserated with the mourners, saying the bishop's death was tragic. He urged Pakistani nationals to be tolerant of each others' religions and beliefs, but made no plans to change the law.
Soon Nawaz Sharif would be deposed in a coup led by General Pervez Musharraf. In April 2000, before he had restored a semblance of democracy to the nation, Musharraf promised to act against the human rights abuses proliferating in the country. He told a human rights conference in Islamabad that he would act to protect women and minorities. He vowed to put an end to "honor killings" and claimed that he would attempt to end the abuse connected with the blasphemy laws.
In May 2000 Musharraf admitted that he had given up his plans to amend the manner in which the blasphemy laws were to be applied. His plan was to replace the immediate incarceration of someone accused of blasphemy with the intervention of a senior public official, who would investigate cases before arrests could be made. Musharraf backed down in the face of opposition and threats of protest from "a number of Islamic organizations".
Musharraf had the confidence of the army, but even though he managed in 2006 to have the Hudood laws repealed (these laws ensured that a raped woman who went to law was jailed for adultery unless she could produce four male Muslim witnesses) he did not attempt to remove the blasphemy legislation. The Minister for Religion in the last government was Ameer Liaquat Hussein,who supports strong punishments for "blasphemy". One Senator in In 2007 spoke of reforming the law, but nothing happened.
The blasphemy laws have been condemned by governments, human rights organizations, and political and religious figures since they became implemented. Yet no constructive action has been taken. Recently, editorials in the comparatively liberal English language press in Pakistan have called for the blasphemy laws to be abolished. Such calls have happened frequently before but have never brought change.
In August 2009, Pakistan's current State Minister for Interior, Tasneem Ahmed Qureshi, spoke of the violence in Gojra, promising an inquiry. He announced that "the government will take appropriate measures to prevent future flare-ups of communal carnage," and mentioned plans by Prime Minister Gilani to introduce more reserved seats in the National Assembly for representatives of minority groups. He mentioned that the government may review the blasphemy laws to prevent their abuse. Minorities need the laws to be rewritten or abolished.
Shahbaz Bhatti is the current Minorities Minister. He has suggested that the blasphemy laws need to be reviewed. When he was in the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance he campaigned for the laws to be abolished, not reviewed.
For too long, Islamists who desire to see democracy overthrown have interfered with the democratic process. In the last government, about one sixth of the seats in the National Assembly were by members of the MMA, an alliance of six hardline Islamist parties. In May 2007 the MMA managed to introduce a draft bill against apostasy. This was never ratified, but it ordered that anyone who left Islam was liable to the death penalty.
While governments have come and gone, Pakistan's paramilitary intelligence services – ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence – have used Islamism to expand their powers, training up and funding terrorist groups to fight India in Kashmir and in an aborted attempt to introduce a Sikh state (Khalistan) in India. Some of the most fierce terror groups were set up during the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq. The ISI were instrumental in setting up the Afghanistan Taliban. The network of jihadists established by ISI, and even the powerful ISI itself, would never allow any government to remove Islamist laws without a fight.
The original laws on religion in the 1860 Penal Code were not designed to favor one religion above another. I spoke to a Pakistani commentator, who told me: "Amendments of laws relating to religious offences in the Pakistan Penal Code brought about under President Zia differ significantly from earlier laws in at least four ways. They do not specifically mention malicious intent to wound religious sensitivities as a condition of criminal offence and they provide significantly increased penalties. Moreover they make specific reference to Islam while the earlier laws were intended to protect the religious sentiments of 'any class of persons'. Besides, there is a distinct shift in emphasis: the newly introduced sections of the PPC do not make it a criminal offence to injure the religious feelings of Muslims, but rather define the offense in terms of insult or affront to Islam itself. The offenses consist in defiling or insulting the prophet of Islam, his companions and family members and desecrating the Koran."
In a Muslim country, any attempt to remove an Islamic law can be seen as an attack upon Islam, even if the law is being abused and is causing harm to Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
One bizarre case of blasphemy involved Muhammad Yousaf Ali, who had once been a favorite of General Zia ul-Haq. Formerly an adviser to the Saudi government, a senior figure in the army, Yousaf Ali became a religious figure. Soon he became carried away with his religious ideas. He was alleged to have declared himself a prophet, though he denied it. A cult grew around Yousaf Ali and some of his followers did think of him as a prophet. He soon gained the name "Yousaf Kazab" (Yousaf Liar). On August 5, 2000, he was sentenced to death for contravening Section 295-C of the penal code (derogatory language about Mohammed).
On June 11, 2002, Yousaf Ali was shot dead in Kot Lakhpat Central Jail in Lahore, Punjab province. He was being moved from one cell to another when another prisoner, Tariq Mota, drew a gun and shot Yousaf Ali four times in the chest. When the jail superintendent arrived, Mota said to him: "It was your duty, but I have done it." The killer said he had been in possession of the pistol for four months.
Tariq Mota, the Sipah-i-Sahaba terrorist who killed Yousaf Ali, also allegedly said after the murder: "I now feel spiritually satisfied. It is the responsibility of every Muslim to kill these infidels."
Another notable case concerned human rights activist Younus Sheikh. Though accused of blasphemy, Younus Sheikh had said at a convention on October 1, 2000 that the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between Pakistan and India should become the international border. This incensed a Pakistani officer. Sheikh lost his college teaching job, and then was accused under Section 295-C of the PPC, blaspheming against Mohammed. He was found guilty. On August 18, 2001, Younus Sheikh was sentenced to death. His appeal was successful and he was secretly released from jail on November 21, 2003. He remained incognito in Pakistan before fleeing to Europe.
People from all backgrounds and creeds have been accused of blasphemy. But when people genuinely believe they are prophets, there must be doubts about their sanity. On August 7, 2003, a court in Bahawalnagar, Punjab province, sentenced Bashir Ahmed to death for blasphemy against Mohammed, and also for claiming to be a prophet. Ahmed believed he was sent by God to reform society. Ahmed had a group of followers, and medical reports declared him to be mentally sound. His family had argued that he was psychiatrically unbalanced.
In Sindh province one faith healer was taken into custody on Christmas Day, 2008. Allegedly Abdul Jabbar he had been found burning pages from the Koran. A crowd of thousands had gathered and decided to wreak vengeance upon Jabbar and his assistant, a man called Naimatullah. The two men were tortured and their den set alight. The crowd was going to burn the pair alive when police arrived. The faith healer and his accomplice were charged under Section 295-B.
In July 2003 a sub-editor with mental illness was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy in North-West Frontier Province. The sub-editor allowed a letter in English to be published, not understanding its contents. The office of the "Frontier Post" was torched, and even though the sub-editor was declared by a doctor to be mentally ill, the doctor's assessment was over-ruled by the judge.
One disturbing case of mental illness has recently been discussed. Back in 1996, a woman called Zebunnisa was accused under Section 295-B of desecrating the Koran. She has been in prison ever since that date, and has never been brought before a court. Imprisonment without trial for 13 years is an abuse of her rights, but in January 25, 2006 she was taken to a mental hospital where she was declared to be "mentally retarded." Instead of being released on the basis of a request made in September, the woman must wait. Lahore High Court ruled on October 1, 2009 that Zebunissa's counsel must submit another application for her release.
It is generally accepted that personal arguments or religious differences are the source of blasphemy accusations. In June 2006 an imam from a mosque was killed, and another was severely injured in a row over "blasphemy" that involved two competing sects of Sunni Islam. The incident took place in Hasilpur, Bahawalpur district in Punjab. The imam, Qamar Javed, preached at an Ahl-e-Hadith mosque. When he burned some trash, the imam was accused by members of another sect that he was burning Koran pages. A mob situation developed, and the imam was killed and his assistant beaten. Posthumous blasphemy cases were registered against the two victims of the mob, while the killers received no charges.
On June 27, 2008 Lahore High Court quashed a death sentence which had been given in 2003 to Tahir Asim, an imam. The cleric claimed that his accusers had religious differences with him. The court agreed, and Asim was released on the same day.
The Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jhvangi have been involved with provoking blasphemy issues, and they have also been implicated in cases of sectarian violence (including bombings) against Shia Muslims. It is therefore unsurprising that in May 2005, when fourteen Shias were officially accused of blasphemy, the Sipah-i-Sahaba were involved.
The Shias were accused under Section 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (“use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of holy personages”). The Shia group included five children. On a Shia holy day, the children allegedly made an effigy of a companion of the Prophet, placed it on a donkey, uttered insulting comments, and took it to a market. They repeated the remarks and ran off when reprimanded. Originally, nine children were been listed in the FIR charge.
A jirga (tribal council) intervened and suggested the children should have their faces blackened (a shameful experience) and then made to ride on donkeys. This did not happen, and the case was brought to the police instead. The Shias lived in a village (in Haveli Koranga, Khanewal district) where the Sipah-i-Sahaba had been founded in 1986, and were effectively surrounded by members of the Deobandi fundamentalist group. (The Taliban of Afghanistan follows this ideology, as do the Tablighi Jamaat, a group which has several ISI members).
In April 2008 in Karachi, Sindh province, a Hindu factory worker was tortured and murdered by his coworkers, who accused him of blasphemy. Twenty-seven-year-old Jagdish Kumar had allegedly doubted the sanctity of Prophet Mohammed. When police arrived, the workers were trying to burn Mr. Kumar's body.
There are many more stories of how the issue of blasphemy and the unfair implementation of the blasphemy laws have turned Pakistan into a nation where its minorities live a precarious existence, where at any time they could become a victim. The blasphemy laws also are abused against individual Muslims.
When there is a constant fear, some people occasionally turn against each their erstwhile friends. Rather than becoming victims, some people join with the oppressors. At the end of March 2009, several Christian families were forced to flee their homes in the village of Sahiwal, Punjab province. The refugees were accused of throwing ink on the Koran. Their accusers were not only Muslims, but other Christians.
A copy of the Koran was allegedly found on the floor in a girls' school in the village after an overnight break-in. The pages of the holy book were smeared in ink and gum. On a blackboard was a statement which appeared to implicate a particular Christian male. A mob tried to set fire to his house and the houses of his associates. More arson attempts followed. The factions appear to have divided along political lines, but it seems that some Christians preferred to side with those who wanted mob justice, to save themselves from being the victims of such "justice."
There is no room to insert a timeline of blasphemy events, as I had originally intended. I must offer that as a supplement at a later date. A brief timeline can be found here, and a listing of Ahmadi cases where the death sentence was imposed can be found here.
The President of Pakistan, Ali Asif Zardari, recently made promises in the Vatican and in London to ensure that minorities are not subjected to further assaults like that in Gojra on August 1, 1999. On September 18, 2009, Zardari spoke to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
The notice on the Archbishop's website reads:
"The President expressed awareness of the perception about Blasphemy law being exploited. The Government was conscious of the need to urgently address the issue in consultation with other political parties, civil society and religious communities in Pakistan with a view to preventing the misuse of the Blasphemy law in future. He confirmed that the Government was endeavoring to seek a broad political consensus on the issue through consultation."
"The President highlighted that the Government has allocated a quota for the minorities in the Government service, Senate, National and Provincial Assembly and appointed a Christian as Minister for Minorities to ensure appropriate representative of minorities.”
“Bishop Michael Nazir Ali commended these measures and also the unprecedented recent appointment of a Minority Member as High Court Judge."
Since 1986 there have been numerous cases of communities being attacked, and no government has ever been able to legislate against fanaticism. There are many things that could be done to encourage peace and harmony between all groups. Separating Mosque and state would be one. Abolishing discriminatory laws would be another. Revising the constitution to protect all religions could be an option. These are only pipe dreams.
In practice, look out for politicians mouthing platitudes, feigning concern and receiving more cash handouts from foreign governments. While this happens, expect the same violence, discrimination, injustice and bigotry to continue unabated.
This article appeared in FamilySecurityMatters.org. Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. He is currently compiling a book on the demise of democracy and the growth of extremism in Britain.