Al Jazeera: Blasphemy in Pakistan


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Pakistan-BlasphemyLawsAl Jazeera: Listening Post – Mar 18/2011

Pakistan is being torn apart by people who want to take it in different directions. This struggle is reflected in the country”s media and nowhere is it more apparent than in the debate over Pakistan”s anti-blasphemy laws.

They are so strict that while the media can report on blasphemy cases, it can not disclose the details of the alleged offences.

The laws – and the void in reporting they have created – are polarising the country even further.

Listening Post”s Meenakshi Ravi reports on the Pakistani anti-blasphemy laws and the media rhetoric surrounding them.

This 25 minute televised report covers a number of issues from around the world. However, the topic of interest here is their report on Pakistan and the controversy surrounding the blasphemy laws in the country, the attempts to reform these laws, and the backlash from extremist elements in the religious arenas. The report explains how Pakistani media rather than just reporting the news has been complicit in promoting this wave of religious extremism which equates any attempt at even discussing the laws as heresy.

It is both a curiosity and a conundrum how the situation about blasphemy is described. No one can report on an accusation of blasphemy as to repeat what someone may have said to warrant be charged with blasphemy, is blasphemy itself. Consequently, media finds itself reporting on a story where the details of which cannot be reported. And thus, no one knows if anyone charged with blasphemy is guilty or not as no one knows any of the details of the charges.

Several media experts are interviewed and explain how these laws are so vague that we return to the question of the laws being truly objective or whether just anybody can charge anybody else if they “feel like it”. There is a general consensus of opinion that the blasphemy laws are not so much about blasphemy, but about a political or religious tool to silence or get rid of any opponent to the mainstream Islamic element of the country. Anybody else, for instance Christians, is being persecuted simply for not being Muslim.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad on January 4, 2011, killed by his own bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri. Qadri reportedly said afterwards, “Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer.” Some in Pakistan consider Qadri to be a hero.

Shehrbano Taseer, Salman’s daughter is interviewed about how the media has been speculative and inflammatory in reporting the news. The report points out Samaa TV’s news anchor Meher Bokhari as an example of where it seems ratings are more important than investigative journalism. Apparently when Salman Taseer asked for a reduced sentence for Asia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy and facing the death penalty, Bokhari invited him on her show and accused him of being a western liberal who didn’t respect Islam and brought out a supposed fatwa against Salman. Shehrbano watched the media circus after the broadcast and six weeks later, her father was killed.

Shehrbano talks on camera of how many newspapers ran editorials calling Salman Taseer a blasphemer and calling for his death. She says that she believes in freedom of speech but adds that this has now become incitement to murder with hate speech masquerading under freedom of speech. Was it inevitable with such talk that sooner or later somebody, in this case Taseer’s own bodyguard, thinking he would be doing something good and/or the will of God if he killed a blasphemer?

On March 2, 2011, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only cabinet-level Christian and an outspoken critic of the country’s widely condemned ‘blasphemy’ laws, was shot and killed in Islamabad by unidentified gunmen. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for his killing and called him a blasphemer of Muhammad.

The former Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Sherry Rehman, who was also trying to change the blasphemy laws, resigned and is apparently in hiding.


This is an interesting television article which raises a number of interesting points about the both political and religious landscape in Pakistan at the moment. How the country will move into the future will depend very much on the balancing act the country finds itself being traditional fundamentalist views of the world and the more liberal, modern views.

Shehrbano Taseer: blog


Wikipedia: Salman Taseer

Wikipedia: Shahbaz Bhatti

Wikipedia: Asia Bibi

Wikipedia: Shehrbano Rehman

Wikipedia: Blasphemy law in Pakistan

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