A Pakistan Senate Body... Speaks Against Blasphemy Laws?
Unbelief Brief
November 6, 2023
Although the parliamentary body's desire to end "abuse" of blasphemy laws is a step in the right direction, it's highly unlikely to make a dent in the country's systemic culture of religious militancy and vigilante violence.

Pakistani Senate body: Abuse of blasphemy law must end

A parliamentary body in Pakistan’s Senate is seeking to address the unjust detentions and suffering of religious minorities under the country's blasphemy laws.

From the Union of Catholic Asian News:

A total of 179 Pakistani citizens are currently in detention, awaiting trial for blasphemy, according to the Standing Committee on Human Rights of the Pakistani Senate, the upper house of the parliament, Vatican’s Fides news agency reported Oct. 19.

The committee also noted that 17 people have been convicted of blasphemy and are awaiting a second trial.

These statistics were described as “heartbreaking” by the National Human Rights Commission and come after anti-Christian mob violence in Punjab province, where 22 churches and 91 Christian houses were destroyed over alleged desecration of the Quran by two Christians. Senator Walid Iqbal, chairman of the senate standing committee, called for the formation of a national coordination committee to address issues related to blasphemy cases and expressed concern about the misuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal disputes.

Such concern from a parliamentary entity is, of course, welcome. The use of blasphemy laws to level false accusations and ruin the lives of personal enemies is endemic, especially in Pakistan, where vigilante violence resulting from often-dubious blasphemy accusations is also common.

The problems are two: first, false or not, every blasphemy-accused is an innocent victim of “laws” which should not exist. Second, despite the attention now being paid to this issue by a government body, it is near-impossible to see anything meaningful coming of it in a country where blasphemy lynchings are almost a regular occurrence and where elements of political and religious extremism have become too big for the government, itself increasingly extremist on these questions, to confront.

Iran: 16-year-old girl refused to wear hijab, confronted by police, now “brain-dead”

A 16-year-old Iranian girl, Armita Geravand, has fallen into a coma after an alleged altercation with morality police for not wearing a hijab while boarding a Tehran metro train on October 1. State media reports now indicate that she is considered "brain dead."

Activists accused the morality police of assaulting her, while authorities claimed she fainted. There is no immediate confirmation of her condition from her parents or activists.

The incident has drawn comparisons to the case of Mahsa Amini, who died in custody in September 2022 after being detained by morality police for wearing her hijab "improperly," leading to anti-government protests across the country. If indeed the facts confirm that she was assaulted—a hypothetical not at all difficult to imagine, as the Iranian morality police have proven time and again they have no qualms using violence to enforce women’s obedience—the comparison could not be more on the nose.

In a related development, two female journalists who reported on Mahsa Amini's death were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for alleged collaboration with the American government and collusion against national security, despite their denial of the charges. Also unsurprising.

Kazakhstan announces ban on hijabs in schools

A bit of an inversion of the usual repression, well exemplified by the previous story on Iran: Kazakhstan has announced a ban on the hijab in educational institutions.

The government's statement argues that this ban is in line with principles of secularism and equality among religions. While Kazakhstan has a population with nearly 70% practicing Islam, the ban is defended by proponents who emphasize the nation's secular nature and the avoidance of privileging any particular religion.

However, opponents view the ban as a violation of freedom of conscience, leading to protests and some girls dropping out of school. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reaffirmed Kazakhstan's commitment to being a secular state, prompting further protests and social media campaigns in support of the hijab.

The commitment to secularism is of course commendable. Nevertheless, outright bans on certain articles of clothing, even religious ones, are themselves an unnecessary restriction on the personal freedom of expression, unless undertaken for a legitimate security concern in a limited context. This hijab ban, although limited to schools, does not seem to meet the former criterion. It is not an injustice on the same caliber as what is happening in Iran—not even close—but it is still illiberal.

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