EDITORIAL: Blasphemy laws are so Middle Ages, right? You’d be surprised by how many places still outlaw such speech, even here in the United States.
Some 100 Christians have been sleeping in a forest in Pakistan after a member of their group was accused of violating the country’s strict blasphemy laws. They’re building a new church out of branches in the secluded area after fleeing their neighbourhood out of fear. Their ordeal began recently when a Christian girl was accused by a neighbour of burning pages of the Quran. Much of the case is still in question including the girl’s age, whether she is mentally impaired and what exactly she was burning. But as word of the blasphemy accusation spread, hundreds of people gathered at her house demanding something be done to the girl. The police eventually arrested her and are now investigating. Sajid Ishaq, the chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, says some 600 families have fled the neighbourhood and that his groups is calling for an investigation into what role religious extremism played in ignighting the case. Sajid Ishaq, Chairman of Pakistan Interfaith League: “They are actually now taking refuge with their families and friends, host families, churches also. So they are actually fearful and we are trying our best to send them home safely and we are also demanding to the government that they should give them the compensation of the loss.” The issue of blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where critics say it’s often abused to settle vendettas or as retribution.
Dozens of Pakistani Christians have staged a protest in Karachi condemning the arrest of Rimsha Masih, a young girl arrested last week on charges of blasphemy. Information on Masih is conflicting, with some reports saying she is 11-years-old and has Down’s syndrome, whilst police claim she is 16 and mentally sound. She was accused by her neighbours of burning Islamic religious texts, and is currently detained in Islamabad, while protests go on and debate on the subject spreads across the globe. Convictions in blasphemy cases are common, and whilst the death penalty is available to prosecutors it has never been used. Last year Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead after having received death threats for urging reform to blasphemy laws. Rights activists argue that the laws are often used to resolve petty squabbles, and are so vague and open to interpretation as to be easily misused by the authorities.