BLASPHEMY LAWS IN PAKISTAN
Part I: INTRODUCTION
WHAT IS BLASPHEMY?
For many people, one of the most fearful terms to be found in the New Testament is the word “blasphemy.”1 Blasphemy is represented as a horrible sin, but what is it? Have I been guilty of it? Can one obtain pardon for it? These are serious questions that engage the attention of the religious person. Blasphemy is derived from the Greek term blasphemia, which scholars believe probably derives from two words: bapto: to injure, and pheme, to speak. The word would thus suggest “injurious speech.”2 Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing disrespect or lack of esteem to a deity, to religious or holy persons or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.3
Blasphemy law is a law limiting the freedom of speech and expression relating to blasphemy, or irreverence toward holy personages, religious history, customs, or beliefs.4 Blasphemy laws are sometimes used to protect the religious beliefs of a majority, while in other cases, they serve to offer protection of the religious beliefs of minorities. Different countries have different laws on the offense of blasphemy under their constitutions and sometimes under divine law.5
In 1860 British introduced three blasphemy laws in Indian penal code i.e. 295, 296 and 298 and the fourth blasphemy law was enacted in 1927 which was known as section 295-A.6 Pakistan adopted the same four laws and different amendment few made at a later stage in terms of punishments. Out of these aforementioned three sections, this paper will merely discussing the section 295, 295A and further discuss 295-B and 295C which was enacted during the government of gen Zia ul Haq.
SECTION 295-B & 295-C
Zia ul Haq introduced 295-B and 295-C in the penal code in 1982 and in 1986 respectively. 295-B states that “ Defiling, etc. of copy of Holy Qur'an. 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.”7 While 295-C states that, “Use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine.”8
Contrary to the blasphemy laws enacted by the British government that addressed to all the religious beliefs, the new laws were specific to the Islam, even in some cases these laws were made for some specific sect of Islam. In the case of 295-B it addressed the issue of defiling a copy of Holy Quran. It specifically protects the sanctity of Holy Quran but there is no law to protect non-Muslims from any act which may hurt their religious feelings. The enactment of these laws led to increase in blasphemy cases. There were only seven blasphemy cases from 1851 to 1947 and after enactment of these new blasphemy laws in 1977, there were 80 blasphemy cases during the Zia's rule (1977-1988).9
Part II: CASE STUDY
Mst. Asia Bibi v The State
(Crl.A. No.39-L of 2015)
FACTS AND JUDGMENT
The facts of the case are that on 14 June 2009, Asia Bibi allegedly uttered derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the Holy Qur'an, while she was plucking falsa (purple berries) along with other Muslim ladies in the fields of one Muhammad Idrees in village Ittanwali, District Nankana, the Province of Punjab. Two Muslim ladies, namely, Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi, narrated this incidence to the complainant, Qari Muhammad Salaam. On 19 June 2009, he called the accused to a public gathering, where she allegedly confessed her guilt, and on the same day a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against Asia Bibi under section 295-C of the PPC at the Police Station Sadar, District Nankana.
The prosecution's case was essentially premised on the statements of the eyewitnesses and the alleged extra-judicial confession. Asia Bibi, however, denied the allegations. In the statement under section 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 (‘CrPC'), she stated, "...I have great respect and honor to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as well as Holy Quran and since police have conspired with the complainant, so, the police have falsely booked me in this case..”10
The trial court convicted Asia Bibi under section 295-C of the PPC vide judgment dated 8 November 2010 and sentenced her to death with a fine of Rs.1,00,000. In default of payment, thereof, she was liable to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six months. Asia Bibi appealed against her conviction before the LHC,11 which dismissed this appeal, vide judgment dated 16 October 2014. In appeal against this judgment, the SC reappraised the evidence on the record and acquitted Asia Bibi after finding her innocent because the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The three-judge bench which acquitted Asia Bibi comprised the siffing chief justice, Justice Saqib Nisar, and Justice Asif Khosa.
The first 11 pages of the main 34-page judgment, penned by ex Chief Justice Nisar, read like a tutorial: what constitutes blasphemy; why it ought to be punished with death; why Pakistan incorporated laws to punish blasphemy; and how Pakistan inspired the 2009 United Nations resolution that declared defamation of religion as a violation of human rights.
It quotes copiously from the Quran and the Prophet's tradition to establish sanctity. But it then goes on to discuss "another aspect of the matter,'' which is that "sometimes, to fulfil nefarious designs, the law is misused by individuals levelling false allegations of blasphemy".12
It says 62 people have been killed for blasphemy since 1990 "even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with the law", and mentions the lynching of Mashal Khan at Mardan University as the latest example.13
The order also underlines the Prophet's affitude towards other religions.
2 Hewett, Bob. 2002
3 Miriam Diez Bosch and Jordi Sànchez Torrents (2015). On blasphemy. Barcelona: Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture.
7 Section 295-B, PPC
8 Section 295-C, PPC
9 Nafees, Mohammad. "Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan A Historical Overview." 2014
10 Mst. Asia Bibi v The State Crl.A. No.39-L of 2015, paragraph 
11 Criminal Appeal No. 2509 of 2010, which was heard along with Murder Reference No. 614 of 2010.