CRF Blog

Pakistan is betrayed by its blasphemy laws

by Bill Hayes

In Pakistan is betrayed by its blasphemy laws for Unherd, Farzana Shaikh reports on the deep division with Pakistan over blasphemy and vigilantism to punish blasphemers.

On 6 January, 2011, the world watched aghast as sections of Pakistan’s modern legal fraternity took to the streets of the country’s capital, Islamabad, to shower petals on the self-confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri. He had arrived in court to hear charges against him for the murder of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who had campaigned for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the release of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy.

In his confession Qadri, a member of Taseer’s security team, justified his actions saying they were required to defend Islam. He was found guilty of ‘terrorism’ and handed the death penalty.  At his appeal hearing before the Islamabad High Court in 2015, Qadri was again feted by hundreds of lawyers who declared they were acting to meet their ‘Islamic obligations’.  His defence team which included two retired Justices – one of them the former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court – also claimed to be doing their ‘religious duty’.

Qadri was finally executed in 2016 after Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. He has since been canonised by his followers and his grave in Lahore transformed into a shrine. The 700-strong lawyers’ forum which rose to his defence has vowed to continue his struggle against blasphemy. [more]

For a free, related classroom lesson, see Blasphemy! Salman Rushdie and Freedom of Expression from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.