Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No freedom of religion in Pakistan

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian. Last June she got into a fight with some women in her village. In retaliation, they accused her of desecrating the Koran. As a result, she has now been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

She's not the only one. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are routinely used against non-Muslims as a tool of religious oppression. According to Human Rights Watch, that is exactly how they are intended to be used:

"The laws are discriminatory and intended as such and are used for precisely that purpose. So, the issue is not of their misuse but of the laws being on the statute books at all. Vague all-encompassing wording allows the laws to be used as an instrument of political and social coercion, legal discrimination and persecution."
Even where cases result in acquittal, defendants and judges have been murdered for their "offence" against religious values. While the government is reportedly considering reform, they have been sitting on the issue for years, too afraid of the fanatics to act to protect people from discrimination. As a result, there is no real freedom of religion in Pakistan.

But its not just Pakistan's problem. New Zealand still has a blasphemy law on the books, which outlaws any offence to Christians (and specifically Anglicans). And while the government doesn't use it anymore, religious fanatics occasionally do in an effort to punish speech they deem "disrespectful" of their imaginary friends.

Pakistan shows where such legislation leads, and what its purpose is. Such laws have no place in a modern, secular, liberal society. Our blasphemy law must be repealed.