RLPB 405. Pakistan: ‘Blasphemy’, Death and Injustice
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 405 | Wed 03 May 2017
PAKISTAN: ‘BLASPHEMY’, DEATH AND INJUSTICE
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
On Tuesday 18 April Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching of a Muslim university student on 13 April. Describing it as ‘cold-blooded murder’, the resolution resolves ‘to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in the future’. The Senate, meanwhile, called for amending the statutes to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations.
The lynching came only weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pandered to his Islamist supporter base by ordering the removal and blocking of all online blasphemous content, adding that anyone posting such content should face ‘strict punishment under the law’. While Christians would clearly welcome having ‘strong safeguards’ inserted in the law, nobody will benefit unless the law is enacted — fearlessly and consistently — and community attitudes transformed.
LYNCHING: Mashal Khan was a student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtun¬khwa. A self-professed ‘humanist’ and member of the students’ wing of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), Mashal Khan’s posts reveal him to have been a strong advocate of women’s rights and freedom of thought and speech. On Wednesday 12 April Khan was embroiled in a heated debate over religion. To some his views were ‘anti-Islamic’. The next day a mob comprising hundreds of enraged Islamist students marched through the university campus chanting Islamic slogans as they searched for Khan, whom they accused of blasphemy. They broke into Khan’s room and after beating and stripping him, they dragged his bloodied body outside where he was shot in the head and chest. According to reports, Khan’s attackers forced him to recite verses from the Qur’an, and beat his body long after he was dead.
Gruesome footage of the attack was posted to Twitter and Facebook, causing a media storm. While many were appalled, others seemed content, such as the student in Lahore who told Deutsche Welle (DW), ‘Those who insult our religion should not go unpunished.’ Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW, ‘The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes. Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society.’ Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based human rights activist, explained, ‘This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties.’ Afzal believes the violence will not stop until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and against those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy. He is not optimistic.
On Friday 14 April the Chief Minister (CM) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, addressed the KP Assembly. He condemned the killing as ‘barbaric’ and ‘brutal’ and announced an independent judicial inquiry into it, noting that the police investigation found no evidence of blasphemy. Amir Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the provincial chief of the Islamic fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), played to his Islamist supporter base, publicly distancing himself from CM Khattak’s statement. Later he told journalists that, while he agreed with CM Khattak that no mob or individual has any right to take the law into their own hands, ‘I will cut out the tongue and eyes of those who want to amend the blasphemy law.’
ASIA BIBI: In mid-April, as all this was unfolding, Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, submitted a request to the Supreme Court asking for her trial to be brought forward to the first week of June. [Asia Bibi is a Christian woman on death row for alleged ‘blasphemy’.] On 26 April Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar turned down the request. The rejection left Asia Bibi’s husband shattered and speechless. As Malook explains, the authorities are afraid to release her, aware that massive Islamic resistance will erupt if she is freed. Islamic clerics have now renewed their call for Asia Bibi to be executed, claiming that incidents such as the lynching of Mashal Khan are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi’s execution.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO
* intervene in Pakistan so that ‘strong safeguards’ will indeed be inserted into the blasphemy law, along with strong deterrent penalties for those making false accusations, so that law enforcement officials and the judiciary will have at least something to work with.
* intervene in the case of Asia Bibi who was imprisoned in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for alleged ‘blasphemy’; may God Almighty intervene so that, by whatever means, the long-suffering, long-faithful Asia will be free to live in peace and security with her family.
* intervene in the case of Nabeel Masih (16) who was imprisoned for alleged ‘blasphemy’ in September 2016, after he ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ an allegedly ‘blasphemous’ Facebook image of the Kaaba (an Islamic holy site in Mecca); may God Almighty protect Nabeel and his family, and deliver them to live in peace and security.
* preserve and bless his precious, severely-persecuted Church and pour out his Holy Spirit in amazing grace and awesome power, so that Pakistan will know transformative revival.
‘They will do these things [persecute and kill you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.’ (from John 16:1-3 ESV).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
‘BLASPHEMY’, DEATH AND INJUSTICE IN PAKISTAN
On 12 April a ‘humanist’ Muslim university student became embroiled in a debate over religion while on campus. The next day hundreds of Islamist students stormed his room accusing him of blasphemy. Images of the horrendous lynching appearing on Facebook caused a media storm. On 18 April Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching and resolving to insert ‘strong safeguards’ into the blasphemy law to prevent future abuse. The Senate called for amendments to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations. Subsequently, fundamentalist Islamists renewed their call for Asia Bibi [a Christian woman on death row for alleged ‘blasphemy’] to be executed, claiming that pogroms and lynchings are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi’s execution. Please pray for Pakistan and its Christians.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).