A Blasphemy Crackdown May Be Imminent in Pakistan
Unbelief Brief
April 10, 2023
Pakistani authorities seem to believe that they are not being draconian enough with the blasphemers lurking in the country’s shadows.

Pakistan: Blasphemy “Crackdown” Imminent?

A document from the Lahore High Court Bar Association, posted to Twitter by Harris Sultan, seems to indicate an undeniable message: Pakistani authorities believe, despite being one of the most egregious offenders on this front worldwide, that they are not being draconian enough with the blasphemers lurking in the country’s shadows.

The document reportedly states that:

“there are reportedly 400,000 blasphemers within Pakistan's borders who have allegedly shared blasphemous texts/memes on social media. However, only 119 'blasphemers' have been arrested while 11 death sentences have been awarded. The court is calling for more arrests.”

This kind of alarmism only points in one direction: more repression—of the freedom of belief and the freedom of conscience of the citizens of Pakistan.

If a crackdown against the “crime” of blasphemy is indeed coming in Pakistan, it would be tragic, outrageous, and not at all unexpected given the country’s track record, particularly in the past decade.

UN Human Rights Commissioner to Bangladesh: Suspend Repressive Speech Law

Volker Türk, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for human rights, has called on Bangladesh “to immediately suspend” its Digital Security Act.

The act in question allows Bangladeshi authorities broad authority to punish online speech—in practice, anything the government does not like, although the act uses pretextual language such as “misinformation” and “incitement of hatred.”

Türk has correctly pointed out that the law is “used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online.” This generality is accurate, and the repression of freedom of speech remains a problem in Bangladesh (as well as most Muslim-majority countries and the Indian subcontinent writ large). The law has also been used as a pretext to prosecute individuals for blasphemy and attach lengthier sentences to the crime than would otherwise be permitted.

On these grounds, the commissioner has demanded that Bangladesh cease enforcement of the law at once. Will Bangladesh comply? Of course, almost certainly not.

Bahrain: Blasphemy-Accused Convicted

Last month, reporting confirmed that three men from Bahrain’s “Al-Tajdeed Society”—which reportedly aims to conduct and foster open discussion on Islamic scripture and doctrine—remained on trial for alleged blasphemy. It has now been reported that they have been found guilty of the “crime.” 

The dispute over the content of the group’s YouTube channel appears to have more to do with Sunni-Shia sectarian disputes rather than any foundational questioning of the validity of Islamic scriptures. Nonetheless, even tame discussion such as this is, in countries such as Bahrain where “the ruling family is Sunni” (but also in countries like Iran where the dynamic is reversed), beyond the pale.

The three convicted would face a year in prison and a fine, but the sentence is currently pending appeal and therefore will not yet be carried out.

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