Pakistan’s blasphemy law highlighted on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme

Protests in Pakistan against someone accused of blasphemy
Protests in Pakistan against someone accused of blasphemy

Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, responsible for the suffering and deaths of many Christians and other religious minorities in the country, was highlighted on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this week.

Dr. Farzana Shaikh, a specialist on Pakistan at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, was being interviewed on the programme on Thursday to talk about the Pakistani general election, with former cricketing legend Imran Khan on the verge of being elected Pakistan’s new Prime Minister.

According to Ms. Shaikh the election was a far from perfect process, tainted by “widespread allegations of… pre-poll rigging,” “curbs on media and press freedom,” and “allegations of selective accountability dispensed by Pakistan’s judiciary.”

Towards the end of the interview, however, Ms. Shaikh went on to highlight concerns which should be on the minds of international leaders with Imran Khan’s political stance on aspects of human rights.

Asked about whether Khan’s policy of wanting to introduce an ‘Islamist welfare state’ would have negative connotations for women and for liberal parties in Pakistan, Ms. Shaikh responded by highlighting Khan’s previous voting record on two particular areas which she described as “deeply problematic”:

  • On women — “he has previously stood against reform of draconian Islamic law which blurs the line between rape and adultery,” said Ms. Shaikh;
  • On religious minorities — “he has also adopted a very problematic stance on keeping in place Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which are seen to be widely discriminatory against religious minorities.”

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been responsible for a great deal of suffering and even execution of Christians over the years, and there have been widespread international calls for the law to be repealed.

In 2014 a Christian couple in Punjab, Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, were set upon by a mob which falsely accused the couple of burning pages from the Qur’an and burned alive in their own brick kiln.

And a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, remains on death row having been convicted of blasphemy in 2010.

It was refreshing to hear this case highlighted by Ms. Shaikh on the BBC ‘Today’ programme. It is only a pity that the interviewer had to bring the interview to a halt just at that moment. In my view this issue cannot receive enough attention until the law in Pakistan is reformed.

You can hear the interview on the programme here, from 1:09:10 up to 1:14:28.

 

 

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