Support Religious Freedom: Ban Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Target: United Nations Human Rights Commissioner and U.S. Department of State

Goal: Eliminate Pakistan’s egregious religiously oppressive blasphemy laws

While many of us have only experienced egregious punishment for religious heresy by living vicariously through the emotionally estranged people in our history books, punitive measures on the order of death for religious deviation are a vivid reality for much of Pakistan.

Indeed, having been sentenced to death in 2009 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, has found herself at the center of a religiously oppressive crosshair. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws administer harsh penalties to those who disrespect Muhammad, the Quran, or any holy personages and symbols within Islam.

First codified by British rulers in 1860, laws pertaining to religion ranged from reasonable mandates that prohibit damage to or desecration of religious places and artifacts to the outrageous prohibition of insults to religious beliefs or practices.

However, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq expanded upon these existing laws throughout the 1980s under his militarist regime in an effort to “Islamize” the country. Consequently, derision of Muhammad is now punishable by death and insulting the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment.

According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,000 cases have been filed, often fueled by personal vendettas, for desecration of the Quran since 1988 and 50 for derision of Muhammad, with at least 12 Christians being sentenced to death.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all non-Islamic groups have cried for the elimination of the oppressive laws, for religious minority groups bare most of the brunt of these iniquitous laws. However, Pakistani authorities have generally been apprehensive about addressing the blasphemy laws due to how incendiary the issue has proven to be as demonstrated by the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Religious Minorities Minister. Having both been very critical of the blasphemy laws and having called for reform, these assassinations depict the frightening stranglehold religious groups have upon the population.

Clearly a concerted and comprehensive effort to reform these oppressive blasphemy laws must begin to reform a generation of Pakistanis that marches solely to the beat of a singularly religious drum. International pressure in the form of sanctions, increased influence from nongovernmental organizations, and a focused attention on reforming the pernicious religious-education system present in Pakistan’s 28,000 Islamic devoted Madrassas.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear United Nations Human Rights Commissioner and U.S. Department of State,

As the ability to practice any religion is among many civil liberties that should be promoted internationally, the cruel punishments for religious deviation that permeate Pakistani society must be curbed at all costs.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman that symbolizes the religious oppression evident in the Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was sentenced to death in 2009 for allegedly, since she pleaded not guilty, insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The blasphemy laws dole extraordinarily vicious punishments to those who desecrate Muhammad, the Quran, or any holy Islamic figures and symbols.

Installed by British rulers in 1860 and greatly expanded upon by General Muhammand Zia-ul-Haq under his religiously fueled military regime, derision of Muhammad is now punishable by death and insulting the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment. While these punishments seem extreme, they are certainly not rare. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,000 cases have been filed, mostly to actualize a personal vendetta, for desecration of the Quran since 1988 and 50 for derision of Muhammad, with at least 12 Christians being sentenced to death.

Hoping to spare themselves from persecution, nearly every non-Islamic group has called for the elimination of the blasphemy laws, for these laws often bite religious minority groups in addition to stirring violent popular sentiment against government officials wishing to reform the laws. In fact, the 2011 assassinations of Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Religious Minorities Minister, have instilled a pervasive apprehension among political figures about addressing and reforming the oppressive laws.

Ensuring religious tolerance is paramount to securing the lives of millions in Pakistan’s religiously diverse, in terms of various Islamic sects and Christian groups, society. I, therefore, implore you to increase international pressure in the form of sanctions, improve influence from nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Commission, and a institute a comprehensive effort to reform the Madrassa education system, which is a breeding ground for religious sectarian violence.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Will Go Here]

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