Advocacy Update
On the Present Status of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan

21 May 2000

On 21st April 2000, Chief Executive of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf unveiled a human rights package at a two-day National Convention on Human Rights and Human Dignity. Inaugurating the convention in the presence of representatives of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations he announced a new administrative procedure for registration of cases under the Blasphemy Law. The new procedure ensured that the First Information Report (FIR) could only be registered after preliminary investigation and scrutiny by the concerned Deputy Commissioner to prevent abuse of Blasphemy Law. The announcement was received with joy by the Christian community whose members have been the majority of victims charged under the Blasphemy Law. A large section of the Islamic community also, welcomed the announcement as it was in keeping with the spirit of Islam to prevent the abuse of the law.

The joy and the sense of relief of the Christian community were however short lived. On the 16th of May, General Pervez Musharraf under pressure from forty Islamic parties and religious groups, who threatened a three-day countrywide strike, backed down from his commitment and said "As it was the unanimous demand of the Ulema, Meshaikh and the people, therefore, I have decided to do away with the procedural change in the registration of FIR under the Blasphemy Law". The announcement came as a shock and cast a gloom over the community. The repeal and or amendment of the Blasphemy Law are a longstanding demands of the Christians in Pakistan.


The Blasphemy Laws have been a source of victimization and persecution of minorities including Christians in Pakistan. In the present climate of hate, intolerance and violence, Blasphemy Laws have become a major tool in the hands of extremists to settle personal scores against members of the religious minorities particularly Christians. Under the Pakistan Penal Code the definition of Blasphemy lacks clarity, yet, it carries a mandatory death sentence. The implementation of the law also poses a serious problem. Since the mandatory death sentence was introduced by an amendment to Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code in 1986 many innocent people have lost their lives, some could not even have their day in court. They were killed before the courts could hear the case registered against them. These include Niamat Ahmer, Tahir Iqbal and Manzoor Masih. Presently a large number of those charged under Blasphemy Law languish in jail, many others have been forced to seek safety and sanctuary in countries abroad and some of have gone into hiding in the country.

Given the present environment of hate, violence and intolerance it is difficult to find lawyers to defend cases of those charged under the Blasphemy Law. Even if one is able to find a lawyer it has become virtually impossible to get a fair hearing. In view of the pressure brought by Islamic religious parties, judges of the lower courts have often been constrained to convict the accused without proper study of evidence placed before them. The climate of hate is so intense as well as pervasive that a retired judge of the High Court Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who set aside the death sentence passed by the Session Court in case of Salamat Masih. Rehmat Masih and Manzoor Masih was shot dead in his chambers by Islamic extremist. Till date his killers have not been brought to justice. In May 1998 the Roman Catholic Bishop, John Joseph of the Faisalabad diocese took his life in protest against the indiscriminate use of Blasphemy Law against the Christians.

Actions of the World Council of Churches

The World Council of Churches has been receiving regular information from its member constituents as well as others in Pakistan about the abuse of Blasphemy Law to victimize and persecute the Christians. The Council has expressed concern about the use of these draconian laws and has asked the government of Pakistan to either repeal the law or amend it to prevent its abuse. In May 1998 in a detailed letter addressed to the government of Pakistan the Council called for immediate steps to repeal Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code and to guarantee the security and physical integrity of those charged under the Blasphemy Law.

In January 1999 the World Council of Churches, together with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Franciscans International filed a written submission under agenda item 11 (e) at the 55th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The written submission drew the attention of the Commission to the abuse and misuse of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and the manner in which it has been used to persecute and harass the Christian minority. The Commission was urged to call on the government of Pakistan to repeal the Blasphemy Laws especially Sections 295 B and 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Representation was also made to the members of the Pakistan delegation attending the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The World Council of Churches again filed a written submission at the 56th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The submission drew the attention of the Commission at the indiscriminate use of Blasphemy Law as a result of which a number of Christians languish in jails since the offence is non-bailable. The Commission was informed that despite assurances of the officials of the government of Pakistan to amend the procedural part of the Blasphemy Law, it still remains on the Statue Book.

Recommended Action

  • The government of Pakistan be called upon to discontinue on government controlled media any religiously biased programmes that incite hatred and intolerance.
  • That the government of Pakistan take practical and concrete measures to instill values of religious tolerance in society by removing prejudicial parts of the education syllabi .
  • That the government of Pakistan set up a Commission on Religious Minorities to study cases of religious discrimination and intolerance against the minorities.
  • The government of Pakistan take immediate steps to amend the procedural part of the Blasphemy Law in order to prevent its abuse.

21 May 2000

Clement John
International Affairs, Peace & Human Security
World Council of Churches

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